Photo Credit: Marc Gronich
S.W.A.T team members could be seen among guests and kosher industry insiders.

The 33rd business-to-business kosher food trade show, Kosherfest, held at the Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus, New Jersey, was held on November 8 and 9. The show was marked by a noticeable police presence one week after a terrorist threat against an area synagogue in the same county sounded the alarm that Jewish-oriented mass gatherings need special security details.

“I have to really marvel at Hudson County here in New Jersey that after the threat that was made against the synagogue here in New Jersey, they have a full S.W.A.T. team here and brought out their full resources because this is a big Jewish event. Whenever there is a big Jewish event in New Jersey, they [the S.W.A.T. team] are on call,” Menachem Lubinsky, founder and co-producer of Kosherfest, told The Jewish Press. “The last time I saw a S.W.A.T. team at a show was when I did a show in Paris about 25 years ago (really 40 years ago). The French were very much afraid of a terrorist threat. In those days it was right after the bombing of Goldenberg’s [August 9, 1982].”

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The threat wasn’t the reason for low turnout, however.

“We’re still officially in the post-Covid period. A lot of companies have still not resumed participating in trade shows, sending their people to travel around the world to different trade shows but it is slowly coming back. I expect this to be much bigger next year. A lot of companies have indicated they will come next year. We’re in the process of recovering from the post-Covid era,” Lubinsky said. “It’s a lighter turnout because of the circumstances and because the show organizers have been much more meticulous about who they are permitting to come into the show by raising the price, by screening more so it’s not automatic that just because you want to come to the show, they let you come to the show. They want to make sure that the exhibitor is a quality buyer or a quality link to a buyer.”

A lighter turnout has its benefits for the smaller vendors.

“This year there was a fantastic turnout, but there were fewer booths. The companies that take out the giant booths didn’t come for some reason. The medium and smaller ones got more attention from the buyers, which is good,” Charles Bineth, CEO of Williamsburg, Brooklyn-based Crusters. “Going back years, we picked up quite a few clients at the show. We always pick up clients. We get contacts. Since we are a retail business, we go to restaurants, schools, yeshivas and chain stores. This is a fantastic meeting place where we can find all these people. Many people who didn’t know us yet see our products, taste them and enjoy [them].”

Crusters has been operating for approximately nine years. The company is estimated to generate $4.8 million in annual revenues and employs approximately six people at a single location at 26 South 10 Street, according to Buzzfile.com.

Most of the businesses were complaining about how skyrocketing inflation has driven up costs.

“Inflation is out of control,” Bineth said. “The prices are flying up. Eggs, flour, sugar, fuel, trucking – all these things shoot up the prices, which is very sad. We pray and we pray and hope that things will change. Over the past two years, our prices are up about 25 percent.”

Elegant Desserts display

At least one company official complained that their business went from the Covid pandemic to the inflation crisis.

“We only had shipping problems during Covid. Now, the cost of fuel has gone through the roof and that has impaired us. Certain of our breads have gone up 22 percent,” Demetrios Haralambatos, corporate executive chef for Kontos Foods, told us. We used to buy 72,000 pounds of flour every two days during Covid. Now, during the Ukrainian crisis, 72 percent of the flour is coming from there, either Russia or Ukraine, and we’re not getting our product. That 72,000 pounds, when delivered, is only 62,000 pounds, or instead of 24-hour delivery, it’s now 36-hour delivery. This isn’t fair to us. Quality is not sacrificed at all.”

Smaller, newer companies have other challenges too.

“Prices have gone up. It’s very hard to stay at low cost,” Rivkie Trebitsh from “Salads and More” also told us. “The biggest challenge is competition and getting enough shelf space in the stores because there are so many products out there; shelf space is scarce and not adequate. We have so many flavors, it’s difficult to get all our flavors in the stores. That’s a very big challenge. The name of the salad dressings is Salad Mate. There are more than 20 options. Our new dressing is cilantro. It’s a very specific-tasting flavor. Not everybody likes that but it is very flavorful. The typical ones are Caesar, nish nosh, spicy mayo, basil pesto, pesto mayo.”

Some longtime Kosherfest vendors, seeing the difference in this year’s show, are hoping it improves in the future.

“Eleven years ago, Kosherfest was the busiest trade show in America. This trade show, pound for pound, was the busiest trade show in the United States,” Marlon Aronstam, president of the Pompano Beach, Florida-based Chilla Beverage, told The Jewish Press. “The show needs some love and care. At the moment it’s a great show and there is no love and care. If you’re not going to take care of it, it’s not going to take care of itself. That’s what’s lacking. There’s no one behind the scenes. The management needs to improve.”

Others were more positive about the experience this year.

Jerusalem Sweets

“It makes more opportunities for the business. To grow more and more and for people to know more about the product. What Jerusalem Sweets is and to be known more nationwide and worldwide, you never know,” said Abdulhadi Alsaman, owner of Staten Island, New York-based Jerusalem Sweets. Alsaman is a native of Damascus, Syria and is Muslim. “We are a wholesaler/caterer/retail. All opportunities are open. I named the company Jerusalem Sweets because Jerusalem is known to everyone – Jews and Muslims. It’s the name itself that speaks.”

One of the vendors was philosophical about the trade show.

“One of the nicest things we have here is that the entire society comes together,” said Bineth of Williamsburg’s Crusters. “They come from all over the place, this gives us our united strength. Each one comes together. Each one greets somebody else with joy, with a smiling face. It’s not just the business and the dollars. It gives us a rise. It gives us greater self-esteem. This is the beauty of this convention.”

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Marc Gronich is the owner and news director of Statewide News Service. He has been covering government and politics for 44 years, since the administration of Hugh Carey. He is an award-winning journalist. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press and his coverage about how Jewish life intersects with the happenings at the state Capitol appear weekly in the newspaper. You can reach Mr. Gronich at swnsonline@gmail.com.