A global taste of kosher

An exhibit of showcasing new kosher products, innovations and technology from around the world were on display in New Jersey.

kosher fest 521 (photo credit: AMY SPIRO)
kosher fest 521
(photo credit: AMY SPIRO)
KOSHER bacon? Halav Yisrael Greek yogurt? Vegan cholent mix? If you’ve sampled all of these recently, then you were probably a visitor at the Kosherfest trade show.
At least 6,000 people packed into the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, New Jersey for two days last week, clamoring to see more than 325 exhibits from around the world showcasing new kosher products, innovations and technology.
Restaurant chefs, supermarket owners, caterers, distributors, kosher supervisors, bloggers and journalists circulated around the hall, sampling, chatting and conducting business deals. English was only one of the many languages swirling around the convention hall; Yiddish, Hebrew, Spanish, Russian and Filipino were just as likely to be heard.
The two-day 24th annual event also included book-signings with popular kosher cookbook authors, a knife skills demonstration, a culinary competition between top kosher chefs and various other presentations.
Though several exhibitors had to cancel because of the severe storm that hit the East Coast two weeks earlier, their spots were quickly filled with people from the waiting list, a representative for Kosherfest said.
One of the most popular new items debated at the show was “facon” – a bacon-like product from Jack’s Gourmet made out of dry-cured beef. The line for the booth – which was also serving gourmet sausages and other meat products – didn’t abate until it had run out of facon, as people lined up to sample the normally treif product – which tastes rather like thinly sliced, fried roast beef. A spokeswoman for Jack’s Gourmet said the product – which won “best new meat, seafood or poultry” in the Kosherfest new products competition – arrived on supermarket shelves in the New York area last week.
Other new meat products available at the trade show were bison patties, hot dogs and sausages from Sagebrush Naturals.
If there was any trend at the show it was “free” – not food giveaways, but nut-free, dairy-free, gluten-free and GMO (genetically modified organism)-free products, not to mention those labeled vegan, organic, all natural and fair trade.
Divine Organics, a division of Transition Nutrition, which offers only raw, organic and eco-friendly products, enjoyed its first year exhibiting at Kosherfest, giving attendees a taste of chocolate brittles, trail mixes and Himalayan salt. The company’s website says it was founded by David Kaplan “on the advice and principles of a Great Master Saint, who recommended organic raw foods” after Kaplan suffered a gunshot wound at a young age.
More than just food producers set up shop at the trade show; all the major kosher certifying agencies did, as well as industrial kitchenware providers, supermarket lighting sellers and those working in credit-card processing, paper goods, marketing and branding.
Two companies at the show presented new boxed halla mixes – Simply Add Water, which comes in regular, sugar free and whole wheat – and Voila! Hallah by Tribes-a-Dozen, which comes in regular, whole wheat and spelt.
Other intriguing products included a line of freeze-dried yogurt drops from Rimon Naturals, “brownie brittle” from Sheila G’s and surprisingly tasty sweet potato tortilla chips with quinoa and sprouted chia seeds from Way Better Snacks’s “Simply Sprouted” line.
Even Manischewitz, perhaps the biggest and oldest name in kosher food, came to the show with innovations. The company – long known for its syrupy wine and jarred gefilte fish – introduced products including red velvet macaroons, chocolate- covered potato chips and a “Hanukka House” decorating kit – a spin on the gingerbread Christmas tradition. The kosher food giant is even holding a Hanukka House decorating competition with a grand prize of $500.
Among the stranger items that went home in the pockets of many Kosherfestgoers were “amped up energy ballz” from Kickbutt. A Canadian company looking for American distributors at the event, Kickbutt sells caffeine- and proteininfused candy balls that come in three flavors – cherry, grape and cappuccino – and are, of course, kosher certified.
AS MOST people in the kosher food world will attest, kosher products tend to be a couple of years behind mainstream trends, which is why it is no surprise that there were two kinds of kosher, halav Yisrael Greek yogurt available – Mehadrin brand and Norman’s – which won in the “best new cheese or dairy item” category.
In addition, imported French macaroons from the Pas Yisroel brand were being chopped up and served to hungry passersby, and the Skinny Kosher Creations brand launched a line of pre-packaged diet meals.
Petrini Gelato won in the category of “best overall new product” for its parve chocolate-peanut butter gelato. The yearold company also offers a range of dairy, parve and soy-based ice creams and sorbets in almost 100 flavors.
Australian kosher companies presented several offerings for US consumers, the tastiest of which was the Freshe Bubbles sparkling cranberry juice. The Australian company Naturalie-Boon exhibited a line of chocolate products, including a soy chocolate drink.
For the first time this year, the Philippines organized a large contingent of companies to come to the event and showcase their kosher products, sponsored by the country’s Department of Agriculture. The majority of the products on offer were made of coconut – from sugar to flour, oil, butter, syrup, nectar, vinegar and jam made from the tropical fruit – fitting for the world’s largest producer of coconuts.
Johnny Adalia of the Spythe Global Enterprises company in Karuhatan said the goal in coming to Kosherfest is “trying to find out what the kosher market is... we have a lot of kosher products.”
Argentina also brought eight companies to the trade show, offering everything from melba toast to bonbons, cheeses, tea and matza.
Though many countries had a strong presence at Kosherfest, there was no bigger contingent of overseas companies than those from Israel. Brands and products that appear on every Israeli’s shelves, from Osem to Prigat, Tivol, Sugat, Tirat Zvi, Sabra and even Angel’s Bakery, were present at the event, looking to meet up with distributors, companies and restaurants to expand their businesses.
Neviot presented its line of flavored waters to the crowd, hoping to catch the eye of US distributors. “It’s natural mineral water,” said a representative of the company. “It’s different than what we’ve tasted here, more soft, gentle.”
Representatives of Israel’s Maimon line of baking products and spices also had a booth at Kosherfest, hoping to bring their offerings to the US market.
“After our success in Israel, we want to expand our business,” said Maimon’s Ofer Helfman. “Many people are interested,” he added just several hours into the event.
The Monte Carlo line of humous and other dips, based in Ramle, also sought to gain traction in the American market.
“We hear a lot that humous and salads are affordable food for families,” said Dror Frish, senior vice president for international business development at Monte Carlo. “Now people are looking to find them – it’s not just a Jewish food.”
Kashrut supervisor Alizah Hochstead of Efrat was also at the event, “looking for products for Efrat caterers,” she said, like powdered coconut milk and other interesting new items that could be imported to Israel.
Two kosher cookbook authors and new immigrants – Jamie Geller and Gil Marks, who both made aliya in August – put in appearances at the show, flying in from Israel to attend. Marks, the author of Olive Trees and Honey and The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, said he came to the show because he is still a part of the US publishing world, and also to see the latest trends in kosher food.
Geller said she “would never consider missing” Kosherfest, an event she called “the single most important annual industry trade show in the world.”
“A schmooze and food fest is the ultimate place to network with existing and new contacts,” said the mom of five.
For many attendees, Kosherfest was an early reunion. Just a day earlier, at least 50 bloggers, writers and kosher foodies gathered in New York City for the first annual Kosher Food Bloggers Conference and an equal number attended a pre-Kosherfest social media dinner at Abigael’s restaurant in Manhattan that evening.