The kosher world continues to grow and diversify

December 13, 2017 18:10
YONATAN GERSHON and daughter Keren are the owners of Neptune Foods of Beersheba. They displayed a wi

YONATAN GERSHON and daughter Keren are the owners of Neptune Foods of Beersheba. They displayed a wide range of sauces and spreads. (photo credit: HOWARD BLAS)

If your bubbe had been one of the 6,000 members of the kosher food industry to attend the recent Kosherfest trade show in Secaucus, New Jersey, she would have barely recognized a single product on display at the nearly 400 booths. Even staples such as gefilte fish and matza have been updated. Gefilte fish long ago moved from jars to loaves (including tricolor plain, salmon and dill). And Passover matzot are now available with pictures and logos, courtesy of 2017 New Product Award-Winner Matzohgram Printed Matzos.

Two long days of walking the eight long, crowded aisles of the Meadowlands Exposition Center provided a unique window into “kosher in action”: new products in search of distributors; store owners inquiring about case prices; kosher certifying agencies, ranging from Sydney to London, explaining the certification process (the OU even has literature available in Chinese!); caterers and restaurant owners looking for that one new item to add to their menus this year.

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And there was the massive sampling. Perhaps the toughest decision for attendees was whether to keep to dairy or meat products on a given day, so as to avoid violating the kosher prohibition of mixing milk and meat.

Exciting kosher products on display included Jack’s Gourmet turkey bacon, GranolaChik granola, Mikee Indian and Korean Sauces and Marinades, FreshBox Farms hydroponically grown leafy greens, Westminster Bakers Co.

crackers (oyster crackers, Sriracha seasoned crackers, and more), La Pastilya Home Style Appetizers (parve Moroccan cigars, kubbeh, empanadas, and more), Asian Star surimi fish (for imitation scallops, shrimp, lobster and crab), Angelic Bakehouse bread crisps (7-grain with sea salt, for example), and Ron Hot Sauces for the Brave – best washed down with Pernstejn Beer from the Czech Republic, or some of the 22 wines from Kosher Winery Argentina.

Visitors are always pleased when booths give out tote bags for carrying giveaways such as pens, pads and packages of Sunrise Popcorn (seven flavors), Jelly Belly jelly beans (blue-and-white, Happy Hanukka packaging), Launch Energy bars, Setton Farms Pistachio Chewy Bites (pistachios and blueberry infused cranberries with coconut) and Hayes Datiles (Medjool dates from Mexico).

Trends at Kosherfest 2017, organized by Lubicom Marketing Consulting since 1987, included an increase in organic, gluten-free and vegan products, a rise in convenience packaging and “on-the-go” products, and countries showing products from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, France, India, Italy, Mexico, the Philippines, Peru, Russia, Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom.

Kosher goes data-driven Kosher is big business, and it is no longer driven by guesswork. Kosherfest kicks off each year with a breakfast and “state of the industry” address by Menachem Lubinsky, president & CEO of Lubicom Marketing Consulting.

“We used to guess who we were targeting – more or less. Now, in the new, digital age, we can find our customers!” he said. Companies are spending more to properly market their products.

Lubinsky went on to explain that kosher is a $12.5 billion industry with nearly 250,000 kosher products in the US.

“Almost all products that can be kosher are now kosher – the US is virtually a kosher country,” he said. Kosher products are now available in stores such as Costco, Target, Walmart and 7-Eleven. “It is not a favor to local rabbis to offer kosher products – kosher products sell!” “If you are an ingredient country in Thailand or anywhere, you are effectively ‘locked out’ if you are not kosher,” reports Lubinsky, who notes that 99 countries now produce kosher-certified products.

Yarden Horwitz, a trendspotting lead for Google, was a new addition this year, invited to deliver a keynote address titled “Using online food trend to develop and market winning products.” Horwitz suggested ways the kosher food industry can use data to better understand their customers and to market and sell products accordingly.

“We are sitting on a gold mine of data about what consumers are searching for, in over a billion searches a year,” she said.

Horwitz identified three main times of the year when consumers search for kosher products, and she pinpointed where they are searching from: April (pre-Passover), searching mainly from New York, New Jersey and Washington, DC; July and August, searching for kosher hot dogs (Nevada is the top search location); and November (Thanksgiving in the US), searching in large numbers from Florida. “We are always looking at risers [water is a riser, she noted] and decliners [e.g., juice], we are asking what is going to be the next Greek yogurt [French yogurt is showing promise], and we follow trends during the week [people tend to be focused more on healthy eating during weekdays and are more indulgent on weekends],” she said.

Israel at Kosherfest While long known for its agricultural exports, and more recently for wines, Israel exhibited a diverse range of products at Kosherfest. Lubinsky stressed Israel’s role as a leader in the worldwide kosher food industry.

“Israel is developing cutting-edge technologies and using new, innovative tools. For example, low sugar and low fat. Just eight or nine years ago, $150 million in kosher products was exported from Israel. Now, it is $246m.,” he said.

There are more than 1,700 plants in Israel that produce food, employing 64,000 workers. The five largest food companies are Osem, Strauss, Unilever, Tnuva and the Central Beverage Company. The export of wine and beverages to the US in 2016 was $32m., a 7% increase over 2015.

Benjamin Bauer, an importer of fine kosher wines, proudly showed wines from Hevron Heights Winery, including a $200 bottle of Ezekiel wine.

“People are looking to support Israel. They will take an Israeli wine over a French wine. And wines from Hebron were especially popular [a few weeks ago], when we read about it in the weekly Torah portion,” he said, pointing to a bottle of Makhpelah wine.

Debbie Smith, associate director of sales and marketing for Marzipan Bakeries, gave out samples of hot marzipan, well known in Jerusalem for 40 years, and available in the US for the past two years.

“So many people love marzipan so much!” she said.

Yonatan Gershon and daughter Keren, owners of Neptune Foods of Beersheba, displayed a wide range of sauces and spreads, including pesto za’atar, sweet harissa and sweet pepper spread. Yonatan’s father was a spice importer from India. He developed blends, and the company now produces sauces, spreads and rice mixes.

“We believe Israeli companies can succeed in America – if we have good items at a good price. The US is the best market for Israeli products, and we are not only selling to the Israeli and Jewish market.”

Mahdi Aralan of Almahdi Sweets came to Kosherfest from Nazareth. He has had a store in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market for two-and-a-half years. He proudly shows off beautiful, carefully packaged gift boxes of baklava.

“Our baklava has 7-12% less sugar than most other baklavas, and we make 100 pieces per kilo,” he said.

Others reportedly make 50 per kilo.

El Nakhleh Coffee of Shfaram proudly displayed ground roasted coffee, with and without cardamom, in capsules for use in Nespresso machines.

Toot Food Industries is a Migdal Ha’emek-based company with a strong social justice connection. The maker of hazelnut date snacks, chocolate-covered almonds and pecans, truffles and marshmallows was in danger of closing and laying off 60 Arab and Jewish workers. American businessman and real estate investor Jonathon Weiner and his wife, Ayelet, bought the factory, hired manager Moti Goldstein and invested in new machinery. They are developing healthier products, for the local market and for export.

Weiner would like to see more Israelis proudly buying made-in-Israel products over often cheaper products made in China and elsewhere.

Shelly’s Natural Best, a three-year-old Israeli company, sells two different products – tiger nut butters, and freeze-dried sprouted legumes (lentils, mung beans, chickpeas). The company aims to “define new standards of quality, taste, aroma and nutritional value for the health-food industry.”

Other Israeli companies at Kosherfest included Al Arz Tahini, Dough’s, Tenta Topgum Sweets, Maadaney Yehiam, Jerusalem Winery, Mahroum Sweets, Matzot Aviv, Bare Juices, Pri-Chen, and J&G Pecans. Bare was one of the winners of the New Product Competition.

The Israeli companies at Kosherfest all expressed appreciation to Carol Nave, manager of food and beverages in the Consumer Goods Division of the Israel Export Institute/Israel Economic Mission, for helping them get to this important show.

“We come to Kosherfest each year,” said Nave. “We have all the latest food trends to offer – gluten-free, sugar-free, lactose-free, lean label.

“The kosher market is our natural market,” she continued. “We are also trying to penetrate the general market.”

The range of quality Israeli products at Kosherfest indicated she and her Israeli companies may be on the road to continued success.

A kosher export with an import twist If Barry Brucker has his way, he will import Aviv matzot and send them back to Israel – once he and his Matzohgram Printed Matzo company are done printing Stars of David, Seder plates and “Happy Passover” greetings on them.

Brucker wanted to do something nice for his synagogue Seder a few years ago. “We had printing equipment, since we are a printing company.”

People were so excited when they saw the matzot with pictures and writing. “People came out with napkins wrapping the matza to take home so it wouldn’t break!” he said.

He test-marketed the matza in Los Angeles delis, and it sold out in four days. “Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, had it on his table, and it was a hit. I have gotten similarly nice comments from other rabbis!” Brucker now hopes to introduce his matzot to the Israeli market.

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