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New York…So where will you be this Passover (eve of April 18th through April 26th)? Organizers of Passover programs throughout the world say that a large number of people have still not made up their mind. One promoter said that the “leap year can be your worst nightmare, since so many people believe they have time.” Travel sources estimate that as many as 50,000 people spend Passover in hotels which this year will include properties in New York’s Catskill Mountains, Lancaster PA, Asbury NJ, Orlando FL, Phoenix AZ, Ft. Lauderdale FL, Miami Beach FL, Poconos PA, Boca Raton FL, Stamford CT, Niagara Falls NY, and Palm Springs CA. International destinations include Israel, Italy, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cancun, and Crete. The lucrative Passover programs did take somewhat of a hit in the past two years due to the recession but operators expect a major rebound this year, hoping that the late date will play in their favor. Many of the programs are in world-class properties that this year includes the Westin Beach Resort & Spa in Ft. Lauderdale, which recently underwent a $160 million makeover. The program at the Westin is sponsored by Majestic Retreats, headed by Avi Faskowitz. Kosher purveyors say that they have already received larger orders than in 2010, another sign that the Passover hotel program is heading for a good year.
New York…by Netanel Cohn, Kosher Today Features Editor…With the Passover season rapidly approaching, major kashrus organizations were gearing up for “an avalanche” of customer inquiries, as one official put it. In interviews with the agencies, there was a general sense that kosher consumers are increasingly turning to major kashrus agencies for answers to questions they have about kosher certification, Passover and year-round. The consumers use the conventional switchboard, special hotlines and the Web, according to the kashrus agencies. Rabbi Chaim Fogelman of the Brooklyn-based OK Kosher Certification said that on average “we receive 40-50 kashrus inquires a day, split between e-mail and phone.” Mrs. Phyllis Koegel of the Orthodox Union said that its Kosher Consumer Hotline receives an average of 150 calls a day, sometimes reaching close to 170 calls on busy days. The OU also receives approximately some 50 -85 questions a day through its on-line Webbe Rebbe, according to the OU executive. During the final weeks before Passover, said Mrs. Koegel, the number of inquiries rises to between 300 and 500 a day. Mrs. Anne Senter, of the Teaneck NJ based Kof-K Kashrus said that its consumer hotline “receives about 850 questions a month divided approximately equally between e-mail and phone inquiries.” She added that “questions are usually answered directly by the Rabbi who deals with the specific company.” Rabbi Sholem Fishbane of the Chicago-based cRc said that his agency receives “about 1,000 consumer inquires each month, but many more visit the website and use our ipod app.”
The agencies agreed that technology has played a major role in the surging number of inquiries. At the Kof-K site, one can go online, fill out a form and e-mail the question. The cRc developed a kosher app because “we’re thinking about the individual stuck in the supermarket who needs kosher advice,” said Rabbi Fishbane. At the OU, it’s the popular Webbe Rebbe that answers the on-line questions. The organizations also said that many of the inquiries are made by baffled consumers on who might be behind a generic “k” or the identity of an unknown symbol or rabbi. Other major subjects are the possible dairy content of a product, the credibility of a rabbi, or the kashrus of a product that appears to be inherently kosher.
New York…Jewish agencies throughout the US, Israel, and Russia report a record distribution of kosher food in advance of the holidays. In a survey of Jewish agencies throughout the tri state New York area, Kosher Today found that the number of Jewish families that needed assistance for food for the holidays may have toped 50,000 nationwide with nearly 35,000 in the five boroughs alone, 27,000 served by Met Council on Jewish Poverty, the largest Jewish social service serving the Jewish poor in the country. In Philadelphia, distribution topped 1500 families by the Jewish Relief Agency. Federations in other major cities also reported record-breaking distribution. Sources say that the increase was largely due to the recession and the aging of holocaust survivors and immigrants. According to Met Council, the largest distribution in New York was in Brooklyn where a record 17,672 received nearly 300,000 pounds of kosher food. Met Council’s figures do not include distribution by such groups as Tomchei Shabbos and Keren Aniyim. Although some food is donated by large purveyors like Empire Kosher Poultry, KJ Poultry and Sabra Salads, most of the food is purchased from money raised in the community. Met Council spent nearly $300,000 food for the holidays, including $33,250 for apples and $31,895 for grape juice. Reports from Moscow, St. Petersburg and Bnei Brak also included record numbers of kosher food distribution.
Chicago…Who’s on First? What’s on Second? The old Abbott and Costello routine could very well apply to many meat shelves on the eve of Rosh Hashanah that begins September 8th. While many supermarkets scrambled to showcase kosher meat and poultry in the past two years, this year’s lineup includes a resurging AgriStar with its Aaron’s Best brand. At Jewel-Osco here, an 8 piece cut up Aaron’s Best chicken went for $1.69 a lb. while an Alle’s kosher fresh shoulder roast went for $5.99. A 12oz. pack of Aaron’s sliced beef was advertised at $4.99. The reappearance of Aaron’s in both beef and poultry appears to have cut into some traditional competitors. While Empire was available in most stores, it had to compete with the Aaron’s poultry in many stores. In New Jersey’s Acme market, it was all Empire in the promotional ads with $1.99 a lb. for turkey and $2.99 for turkey breast. In addition to the supermarkets, Aaron’s was also being sold in many independent kosher stores. Hershey Friedman, the Canadian Jewish magnate who bought Agri is touting his Canadian roots in producing American quality products as part of an aggressive marketing effort. In markets like New York, the key players also include KJ Poultry, a rapidly rising kosher poultry producer in Monroe, NY. Industry sources say that there is absolutely no shortage of kosher meat and poultry in any major kosher market in the US this Rosh Hashanah.
On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, we are pleased to bring you several breaking stories and many important new developments in the kosher food industry. For starters, the closure of 25 A&P brand stores is destined to create realignment in kosher retail in many markets. Read why kosher sources do not believe that this will be such a bad thing…I am pleased to share the very inspiring story of an Irish-American who may very well be the architect of the modern-day mega kosher food section in supermarkets…What a difference a year makes? Especially when it comes to kosher meat and poultry…Yes, we told you so. A hummus war is underway…FreshDirect is taking a new aggressive tact to attract kosher on-line shoppers…Tova Ross reports that if you eat kosher and are going to college this Fall, there may be a restaurant for you…A kosher cooking maven goes on line to network with others who enjoy kosher cooking…If you’re in a supermarket and see someone with a camera in the kosher section, it just may be KosherEye.com…A New Year deserves many good new kosher wines and we have the update from Royal/Kedem…In My Sixth Sense, I look at why the airlines still can’t get it right when it comes to kosher…Tova Ross in her New Product Showcase looks at the new Hummus from Tribe.
On behalf of all of us at KosherToday, Kosherfest, Diversified Business Communication, and LUBICOM Marketing Consulting, we wish you a Shana Tova, a year of health and prosperity.
By Menachem Lubinsky
With the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) only weeks away, the Metropolitan Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty was already publicizing an extensive list of distribution points for holiday food for the Jewish poor, which only seems to increase with the ongoing recession. A prominent Jewish community leader was concerned that increased prices for the holiday food would also wreak havoc for those with large families and others suffering from a job loss or simply from an inability to cope with such prices. I reached out to many retailers who assured me that despite being forced to pay higher wholesale prices, they would make every effort to “hold the line.” One bakery told me that he was paying much higher prices for wheat than he did a year ago as a result of the increase in commodity prices but “would pretty much keep his prices the same.”
Typically, I hear these concerns on the eve of Passover, but this year it is very telling that the concern is so strong on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. I suspect that retailers know the true state of many of their customers better than anyone. They are aware of customers whose fortunes have turned or may have had a life-changing event in their family life. It is a time of year where there is an increase in charitable giving, compassion and understanding, which would suggest that this would not be lost on the retailers.
Many in the kosher industry tell me that “wise shoppers” will find a host of special and reduced prices, albeit that it may take a bit of organization and travel to come up with a package of good pricing.
New York…by Tova Ross, Kosher Today Features Editor…Gift-giving has become increasingly popular on the eve of Rosh Hashanah and the lead item is honey, not only those ubiquitous cute honey bear bottles, but more sophisticated and gourmet options. Good kosher wines are also a common staple in the ever-expanding holiday gift baskets. HoneyRun Winery based in Chico CA, produces a sophisticated non-sulfited wine from fruit and honey, and is kosher-certified by the OU. Honeywine flavors include Blackberry, Cranberry, Elderberry, Cherry, and Dry Mead. Savannah Bee Company Grill Honey is a wonderful present for any chef, from the amateur or professional. Formulated specifically to bring a distinctive honey flavor to be a perfect pairing to grilled foods, this honey can serve as a marinade, basting or brush-on condiment to grilled veggies, meat, and fish to add a crisp caramelizing factor and honey flavor to barbecue favorites. The product, hand-harvested at the peak of honey season, is KSA kosher certified. Sandt’s pure buckwheat honey, Grade A natural and unfiltered, is another option. More full-bodied and dark than typical mass-produced grocery store honeys, buckwheat honey is richer in iron and several antioxidant compounds than its lighter and mass-produced counterparts. Buckwheat is the strongest and darkest of all honey varieties. WeeBee Honey, produced on a small family farm split between New York and Florida, is an unadulterated and 100 percent natural raw version of honey that results in a nutritionally beneficial product, rather than a mere sweetener. WeeBee uses bees located strictly in wild locations in both states, thus producing a wildflower honey coming from wild plants, trees and grasses. Since it is unfiltered and unstrained, the honey retains all the beneficial properties that are often missing from conventional honeys, such as pollen, propolis, and honeycomb. The crop is tested every year for pesticides with a USDA lab, ensuring a pesticide-free product. Company spokeswoman Anna Almeter said, “Being a small family farm affords us the opportunity to have quality and control over our colonies and our honey. We raise our bees organically, never using chemicals or pesticides on or near our bees. The taste and aroma is a sweet wonderful mix of wildflowers with a smooth texture.” WeeBee Honey is certified kosher by the OU. Other honey-related gifts for the yomim tovim include a large selection from innovative candy purveyors Oh, Nuts, and include a honey-filled candlestick, violin or guitar-shaped honey bottles for music lovers, Jelly Belly honey beans in an adorable honeycomb-shaped jar, and baked goods like teiglach (small pastries boiled in a honey syrup) and honey cake.
For a wider variety of delicious baked goods, Challah Connection has challahs, apple and honey cakes, and rugelach. Other Rosh Hashanah-themed treats from the company include caramel-filled chocolate “apples,” organic honey-flavored hard candies, teabags with honey stirring ticks, and apple-pie flavored protein bars. Kosher Gift Baskets offer gourmet shofar-shaped cookies dipped in dark chocolate and glazed with rock candy crystals, a sterling silver lulav set, and a cornucopia centerpiece filled with dried fruit.
Packaged Facts estimates the overall market for gift-giving in the U.S. increased 7% from $113 billion in 2007 to $121 billion in 2009. Likewise, the total market for food gift-giving in the U.S. grew from $16 billion in 2007 to $18 billion in 2009, representing a 9% increase. Packaged Facts projects that healthy growth across all food gifting channels will propel the market past $21 billion by 2014. Kosher industry sources say that gift-giving n the kosher market ahs increased by nearly 15% in the past three years.
By Menachem Lubinsky
New York… While some stores were still restocking their shelves after Passover, SuperValu was already promoting Israeli products in advance of Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, marking the 62nd anniversary of the founding of the Jewish state. Yakov M. Yarmove of SuperValu noted: “In addition to continuing the support of Israeli products, it always helps to have another sales program coming out of Pesach, when traditionally kosher sales slow down.” In a promotion with Osem, SuperValu launched an ad campaign for many of its affiliated stores throughout the country. Other grocers are gearing up for the upcoming holiday of Shavuos (eve of May 18th through the 20th) when in addition to the usual mix of holiday products, dairy items are highlighted. Some retailers say that the post-Passover period is a time for discounting many items and “keeping customers interested,” as one Midwest grocer said.
Passover 2010 will also be remembered for its unprecedented advertising. The number of full page ads in Jewish print media before the holiday was unprecedented. Some called it the “Pomegranate syndrome,” referring to the high-end Flatbush grocer that almost from its inception in August 2008 has been promoting the store through weekly full-page ads. It prompted many other kosher food purveyors and retailers to also go the full page route in the belief that the Pomegranate use of the large ads was a major reason for its success. But as it turned out, even Pomegranate went dark in the two weeks after Passover, although sources say it is expected to resume its advertising this week. One retailer said “I’ll be doing a great deal of advertising for Shavuos,” but then he joked: “My next Jewish holiday after that is barbecue.”
By Menachem Lubinsky
New York…A blogger in Santa Cruz found regular matzoh on a Kosher for Passover shelf but “not a single box of Passover matzoh.” An inspector for the New York State Kosher Law Enforcement Bureau found many Passover shelves with kosher products that are not kosher for Passover. In New Jersey, a Kosher for Passover aisle featured non-Passover croutons. In Queens, there was confusion about cans of mushrooms on the shelves, some with the P designation and others without. Sources blamed the turnover of store personnel as a primary reason, particularly those stores that do not rely on distributors to set up the Passover shelves. “It’s really a case of the blind leading the blind,” said one distributor who described a store where a new manager with little experience in kosher giving instructions to a worker about stocking the shelves. In the New Jersey case, the daughter of a local rabbi complained to the manager who then asked her to go through all the products on the shelf to find any items that were not kosher for Passover. Distributors found it ironic that the stores would invest into a Passover program but then not go to the trouble of setting it up properly.
By Menachem Lubinsky
New York…When all the numbers are in for kosher food sales, Passover 2010 may show an 8% – 10% increase, but there were some markets that were described as “soft.” In interviews with more than a dozen retailers, manufacturers and distributors, the big story appeared to be some of the subtle changes in the behavior of consumers. One noticeable trend was the move to healthier eating with more whole-wheat and spelt matzohs sold. The recession appeared to still have a hold on many customers as they avoided overbuying and shunned more expensive items. The grocery sources said they also noted a stronger demand for ingredient items, indicating more home-cooked items.
Sales were stronger in the New York area than they were in other parts of the country. Kosher sources say that natural growth and the addition of significant numbers of out of area guests contributed to a 12%-15% sales increase in some areas in New York. In some areas, new items again drove margins to offset losses on such loss leaders as Matzoh and grape juice. One Brooklyn retailer credited the calendar for his strong season “I love it when Shabbos is free-standing and in the middle of the holiday as it was this year, giving me three shopping spurts within the holiday. Sales of all categories of Matzoh were believed to flirt with the $90 million mark but some stores said that their biggest sales were not in specially produced Passover foods. One retailer said that he had sold a record number of full cases of potatoes, onions and eggs, as more families seemed to stay at home. But at the same time, operators of special hotel programs all over the country said that they had done far better this year than in the preceding two years, but were still shy of the numbers recorded in 2007. The market as a whole seemed to deal far better with the customary annual shortages than in the past, albeit that there were many reports of shortages of Matzoh, particularly whole wheat and gluten-free in the New York area.
Even those retailers that categorized their 2010 Passover sales as “soft” seemed to indicate that they had at least matched last year’s sales and one said that “he only realized a 2%-3% increase.” He blamed the weaker sales on the early Passover, which he says always effect his sales. Another retailer in the Midwest blamed the ongoing recession, while a retailer in the South said that every few years “there is an unexplained adjustment.” Distributors say that they believe that nationwide Passover sales will at least increase by 8%-10%.