The latest kosher food trade show really put the palooza in Kosherpalooza. A palooza is an exaggerated event and, for all intents and purposes, with some expected hiccups, this was a gastric extravaganza where you needed a comfortable pair of shoes for racing around the convention floor during the one-day, eight-hour food festival.
Once again, as was the case with the now-defunct Kosherfest, the owners of the Meadowlands Expo Center called in the Hudson County Regional SWAT Team for security. The Secaucus Mobile Command was also onsite as were several yellow barricades from the Urban Area Security Initiative, mixed in with purple and yellow balloons on the handrails as guests hiked up the stairs into the Expo center. Two SWAT Team officers, Rota and Garcia, patrolled inside the arena with high-powered rifles strapped to their bodies and full body gear for protection. One might wonder why, if the Expo Center operators thought the place was a target of terrorism, so many people would venture inside.
“The Expo Center at the Meadowlands has security for all their shows. This is provided by the Meadowlands,” Shlomo Klein, one of the hosts of Kosherpalooza, told The Jewish Press. “It’s not unique to the fact that it’s a kosher show.”
The event captured the imagination of 125 vendors, although a few booths remained empty through the entire show due to last-minute cancellations. More than 3,600 consumers attended the food show, including 228 onsite registrations from last-minute walk-ins, according to Kosherpalooza organizers. Each booth cost businesses $150, and patrons spent $150 to enjoy the show. The kosher food industry now boasts an estimated $40 billion in sales.
“The shows that were out there always had more trade, whether it’s the kosher shows like Kosherfest or the Fancy Food Show,” Klein said. “JFood was also [in its] first year. They did one day trade and one day consumer. You know the saying, Mit eyn ken men nit tantsn af tsvey khasenes [You can’t dance at two weddings] – we felt the focus should be on consumers.”
The organizers of Kosherpalooza – PowWow Events and the Cedarhurst, New York-based Fleishigs Magazine – have been planning this event for six months.
“On the vendor side, a lot of the vendors felt that the trade shows are great but they’re not really filling a void,” Klein said. “It wasn’t really doing it for them. A lot of vendors were ready for us to do something for consumers. For the last two years, we’ve been getting a lot of feedback to do something like this. The PowWow Events who actually host these types of shows and create shows came to us at the right time, it was a good shidduch [marriage], and Kosherpalooza was born.”
After visitors got over the shock of the armed guards and firepower, they encountered lots of fun foods in the lobby.
“In the entrance, we’re providing slushies, cotton candy, popcorn and music,” Klein said. “At least to get people to enter into a festive atmosphere and to lower their guard.”
The media entered at no cost.
“There is a certain amount of press and trade that brings tremendous value. One of the reasons we did this was for the consumer but it’s also for the kosher market. We feel the kosher market has really expanded. It’s changed, just like the way we do shows has changed. [For] the vendors, having consumers is great. It’s an opportunity for them to get product in their hands, put product in their mouth,” Klein said. “That’s amazing, but then again the vendors themselves [still] have trade and press; that’s great for them. It’s kind of a win-win situation.”
“Kosherpalooza is not a successor to Kosherfest. This is a totally different event. Kosherpalooza is a one-of-a-kind kosher food festival for consumers,” Klein explained. “People don’t even know what a consumer show is. We had to educate people to explain what we were doing. It’s a B2C [Business to Consumer] show. It’s a kosher food festival for everyday people, everyday shoppers and anyone interested in kosher food.”
Many healthy choices were demonstrated at Kosherpalooza, including a relatively new product made from granola.
“The benefit of being at this food show is exposure,” Aimee Turner, the owner of the Fairview, New Jersey-based GranolaChik told The Jewish Press.
Turner’s story of how she developed this product began in 2008.
“About 15 years ago I was pregnant with my fourth child. My husband was diagnosed with colon cancer at the same time,” Turner recalled. “There wasn’t much I could do, being pregnant, and give my husband the best diet possible out there. He’s fine but I decided to give out for mishloach manot granola instead of candy. It was one of my big foods that really hit and everyone loved it. A few years ago, I decided this was the time for me to start my business. We have a warehouse where we manufacture the products and every day we bake.”
For Turner the venture appears to be a labor of love.
“I’m not really focusing right now on every sale of every tub,” Turner said. “I’m focusing on getting into every store that holds the premium gourmet items. We’re not in Target and they’re not my customers right now and I don’t want to be there [in Target].”
Turner’s company slogan is “Eat Healthy, Love Life.”
“My product is Granola bark. It looks like a cookie and is sweetened with maple syrup,” Turner said. “It’s made with healthy fats, which are olive oil and nuts. We created a product that is sweetened with maple syrup, which is a natural sugar, and we found that it’s not only eaten for breakfast but it’s also eaten for dessert. It’s pareve. For diabetics, this is better than sugar and lower on the glycemic index. Maple syrup is a natural sugar and is better than eating refined sugar. It’s balanced out with the oats. It stabilizes the insulin output.”
Turner, 53, takes sincere pride in her fledgling business.
“It’s not important what it costs me to make and what I sell it for unless you’re looking to buy my company,” Turner said. “I am profitable and my product is wanted. My business is growing every day.”
Turner never stops developing and expanding her product line.
“We have very special flavors coming out, like carrot cake and flavors you don’t see out on the market at all,” Turner said. “We have a maple bourbon coming out.”
One of the youngest entrepreneurs at Kosherpalooza was Jake Niman, 25, the founder of Mixcraft.
“I’ve been into mixology as a hobby for years. Craft cocktails. Really high-end stuff,” Niman told The Jewish Press. “I saw that in the kosher event space, people are starting to get more into cocktails. When you go to an event, there’s always a bar. There was always a lack of quality at these bars and nobody was doing fresh ingredients or a quality experience. We came in and that’s what we’re doing.”
Niman and his employees serve drinks from what he calls a cocktail truck, which looks similar to a truck you might see at a park during the lunch hour serving salads and sandwiches.
“This truck is for an outdoor event in the summer,” Niman said. “If you have a nice backyard, we can drive this [truck] up to the backyard and have drinks straight out of our trailer, ready to go. All of our juices are freshly pressed. Our signature one is the Eye of the Dragon. It’s a gin-based drink. It has fresh passion juice in it, fresh lime juice, a little bit of a Bordeaux red wine float on top so you can see the contrast in colors and then we garnish it with a dragon fruit slice and a minced grape. It’s all about presentation and flavor. You want the flavor to be there.”
Niman said he is especially tuned in to the strictest rules of kashrus.
“We have our own facility where we prep everything. We’re very strict with kashrus,” Niman said. “All of the spirits we use are on the CRC-approved list. Any herbs we’re using are checked by a mashgiach. We’re super, super careful at every level. We are under the Lakewood, New Jersey-based Vaad Kashrus Mehadrin, under the supervision of Rabbi Tzvi Altusky. He specializes in events.” The Vaad also serves the growing Jewish communities in Queens.
Niman said building a following was easier than he thought it would be.
“I thought I would have had a harder time getting people to appreciate the drinks because there wasn’t much [out there] in terms of quality. I thought I would have to pitch people,” Niman said. “As soon as people saw what we were doing was different, it kind of took off.”
Niman said he avoids going with the truck to places that have large crowds.
“We don’t go to festivals. It’s really for private events. Everything is custom quoted based on the number of people,” Niman said. “The price to have the truck in your backyard starts at around $1,000 and goes up from there. For festivals and expos, it could cost upwards of $15,000 for the truck to be at the event.”
A natural-born salesman, Niman said he is a high school dropout who went to yeshivas in Israel, Queens, New York and Miami.
“I never graduated. I went to yeshiva. I went to Israel to attend yeshiva and then I came back to America. I went to Chofetz Chaim Queens for two years and then I switched to Chofetz Chaim Miami,” Niman, a Monsey resident, said. “I was learning part-time in a yeshiva here. After working for two companies doing marketing, I started my business in 2021. We mainly service the tri-state area.”
Niman said he likes his independence and being an entrepreneur.
“We’re also working on some retail products in the cocktail/mixology space,” Niman said. “That’s what our end goal is as we’re zoning in on exactly what we will be producing.”