Jelly Belly introduced its new Jelly Bean Chocolate Dips. Its Cherry, Orange, Strawberry, Coconut and Raspberry jelly beans are now covered in dark chocolate. Says Jelly Belly about its new chocolate products: “It’s a taste sensation like nothing before! No flavor combination is quite as decadent as juicy fruit smothered in rich dark chocolate.” To preserve freshness, 2.1 lb cases will be packed as 12 individually-sealed 2.8 oz. bags. All Jelly Belly Chocolate Confections are Kosher Dairy certified by the Orthodox Union. For more information visit: www.jellybelly.com
My Sixth Sense…by Menachem Lubinsky
I have become used to the discontent voiced by many Brooklyn retailers about the “unfair competitive environment” in neighborhoods like Flatbush. This was the case when Shop Rite opened many years ago. Local stores argued that the chain had created an “unleveled playing field” and was sure to put some of them out of business. Shop Rite went on to become one of the more successful stores in the Wakefern network and none of the smaller retailers closed. Next came the voices against Pomegranate, the upscale gourmet kosher supermarket that opened in August 2008. While it did in many respects change the face of kosher retail in the area, it did not force any significant closings.
This week, I heard it again when it was announced that Moisha’s Kosher Discount Supermarket was to receive $1.93 million to double its size on Avenue M in Midwood. According to press reports, the money comes from New York City’s Food Retail Expansion to Support Health program – which targets neighborhoods in Central Brooklyn, northern Manhattan, the South Bronx and other neighborhoods where fresh food is hard to find. Even though Moisha’s is outside the target zone, city officials say the neighborhood counts as “underserved.” Several City Councilman protested that the grant went against the purpose of the support. The Daily News counted 10 markets within 5 blocks of the store, all selling fresh fruits and vegetables. City officials pointed to a study showing the neighborhood had “moderate need” for supermarkets, and fewer markets per person than the city average. Once again, my kosher retailers cried foul, but like Shop Rite and Pomegranate, it is unlikely to force them out of business and the ultimate winners will once again be the kosher customer.
New York…Major kashrus agencies are increasingly forging ties with all segments of the core-kosher market. The agencies are also said to be working closely with other kashrus groups in an effort to project unity and espousal of high kashrus standards. As part of its Harry H. Beren ASK OU Outreach program, several hundred participants in Boro Park heard a group of rabbis discuss kashrus issues. The OU Kashrus Department held similar seminars in Monsey, Flatbush, Far Rockaway/Five Towns, and Los Angeles. Participants said there was a concerted effort to demonstrate the OU’s close working relationship with other Orthodox and Chasidic kashrus groups. The OU leadership in the past several months has also visited with Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe of Kiryas Joel in Upstate, New York. It also met with the Sephardic sage Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in Jerusalem, to forge better ties with the Sephardic community, who rely on the Bet Yosef certification. Observers say that there is “unprecedented cooperation amongst the kashrus agencies despite the competitive environment.” They say that this is an extremely positive development for the kosher consumer who must negotiate “the complex kashrus maze.” One rabbi familiar with the kashrus scene said: “The good news is that there is more uniformity of standards than ever before.”
By Tani Cohn
(New York)—With the recent success of Groupon, an online group coupon site that delivers localized daily deals to millions across the nation, Jewish-oriented Groupon-style sites have sprouted up to capitalize on the lucrative kosher market. Several sites now compete for deals and diners, including Jdeal.com, KosherKouponz.com, Jewdle.com, and Jewpon.com. While some of these, notably KosherKouponz, offer mostly kosher food coupons, all of the above sites are attempting to capitalize on other aspects of the Jewish market by offering non-food services and products geared towards Jewish consumers. Indeed, a recent sampling of offers from the sites listed above included everything from restaurant deals, 50% off on children’s toys and clothing and a steep discount on short-term Israeli cell phones.
When it comes to effectiveness Groupon-sites are a mixed bag. According to one New York Times article, “Groupon is a beast,” as it holds both massive potential and risk for retailers. Seemingly, Groupon-style sites, such Jdeal and Jewpon, while not reaching hundreds of thousands like Groupon, still carry a strong potential and risk factor for those who use their services. According to AdWeek Advertising Magazine sites like Jdeal have memberships upwards of 5,000, so merchants who use the service are guaranteed a wide audience, if not actual costumers. Thus, Jewish Groupon-style sites seem to certainly hold the means to be effective advertising mediums, albeit actual results may vary. While Jewish Groupon-style sites are still in their nascent stages, their affect on the kosher restaurant market in major cities like New York has already been felt. Indeed, with restaurants and kosher food providers throughout the city and its suburbs offering discount deals on simchas, sushi and steak dinners, those who don’t jump on the Groupon bandwagon may be at a disadvantage. Seemingly then, Jewish Groupon-style sites hold potential to grow as membership naturally increases and to become an integral aspect of the kosher food market. Conversely, because of the localized and tight-knit nature of the Jewish community, restaurants and other food providers may not feel the need to use a Groupon-style site, since the ROI might not be worth it.
Portland ME…Kosherfest 2011, which will take place at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus NJ on November 8-9, will be a major showcase for the growing array of gluten-free products. The rapid expansion of the gluten-free products will be very much in evidence this coming Passover as kosher consumers will have a wide array of new products, including gluten-free matzohs. The global gluten-free market is set to grow by $1.2 billion throughout the next five years, eventually reaching $4.3 billion by 2015, according to recent research by Datamonitor. A majority of that market growth will come from the U.S. foodservice industry, which is expected to grow by more than $500 million by 2014. With the expanding population of Americans affected by celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, demand for gluten-free products and menus continues to climb. The market posted sales of $2.6 billion in 2010, according to Packaged Facts market research.
Kosherfest 2011 is already shaping up to be one of the largest ever. This year’s show is expected to sell out well in advance. In 2010, the show was sold out four weeks before opening day with more than 25 companies being put on a waiting list. Attendance is expected to top last year’s 16% increase, but most importantly, the number of key buyers is also expected to dramatically increase.
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…The list of major vodka brands sold in the US without kosher certification is dwindling to a precious few. Crystal Head Vodka, created by entertainer Dan Aykroyd and American landscape artist and portraitist John Alexander, became the latest major vodka brand to become kosher certified when it received the endorsement by the Orthodox Union (OU). A leading wine and spirit expert told Kosher Today that sales of vodka have been steadily increasing in Orthodox Jewish areas, mostly by younger consumers. Rabbi Eliyahu Safran, OU Kosher’s Vice President, Communications and Marketing, was gratified to “welcome Crystal Head Vodka to the ever-growing list of the high class vodka and liquor products that have gained OU certification in recent years.” Rabbi Safran told Kosher Today that despite a perception by some that all vodka is inherently kosher “all flavored vodka requires certification.” He noted that many types of vodka are produced in distilleries that also produce other alcoholic beverages, including many grape based beverages. These can share equipment and cross contaminate grain based vodka. Additionally, some vodka is polished with glycerin. A number of rabbis have voiced concern at the “increased drinking habits” of many younger Orthodox Jews, but dismissed any notion that it has become a “problem.” One rabbi said: “Yes, there is definitely more drinking going on at the Shabbos Kiddush, but by and large you would call that “responsible consumption of alcohol.” For vodka producers, the increased demand has apparently not gone unnoticed.
Brooklyn NY…It’s a well-known secret amongst kosher retailers that prepared foods are “profitable and an important part of a kosher grocery store or supermarket.” At Brooklyn’s Pomegranate, the prepared food section is positioned near the entrance of the store and by all accounts appears to be the busiest section in the store. Abraham Banda, the store’s owner, says he invests a great deal into constantly improving his prepared foods, even retaining a world-class chef to improve every one of his dishes. Upscale stores like Landau’s in Boro Park have also recently upgraded their prepared food sections in an effort to attract younger customers and to boost profits. In interviews with a half dozen retailers, Kosher Today has learned that the prepared foods section offers the retailers margins they do not realize in other sections of the store. One of the retailers said that prepared foods represent nearly 28% of his store’s revenues, up from 10% just five years ago. Other retailers gave figures of 15% – 25%. The retailers agree that they have experienced a dramatic increase in demand for a broad array of prepared foods by younger customers. “Their very busy lifestyle means that they will be dividing their week between home cooking, serving prepared foods, and eating out,” said one retailer. “We are also catering to a new generation of kosher foodies who covet themed prepared foods.” The retailers say that another significant change is the demand for a more diverse menu that goes beyond the traditional Shabbos foods. “I sell almost as much cholent on a Wednesday than I do on a Thursday or Friday, but the big news is how much of the exotic dishes I sell almost everyday” said one of the retailers. He admitted that markups often exceed 100% and are a good way to balance the tiny margins realized in other sections of the store. Some like Banda said that margins were still not great because of the high cost of research and development as well as labor.
In mainstream supermarkets, there has been a major shift towards healthier prepared foods. Whole Foods Market has recently stepped up its prepared foods offerings. Its new “Health Starts Here” initiative plans to offer healthier pre-fab options, limiting add-ons such as refined flour, sugar, oil and processed ingredients. If there is one complaint by kosher consumers it is that there are not enough “healthier” prepared food options. Convenience is a key driver for U.S. consumers who are increasingly turning to prepared foods purchased at the supermarket deli for in-home suppers, reports market research firm The NPD Group, whose recently released “DeliTrack” study finds easy at-home meals to be the top-ranked reason that consumers buy supermarket prepared foods. According to NPD’s “DeliTrack,” about one in five adults purchases a prepared food item in a typical week. When making prepared food purchase decisions, consumers’ top picks are chicken or turkey items, sandwiches, deli salads such as potato salad, and leaf salads. These four types of foods account for just over half of all deli-prepared food purchases. In kosher, the popular dishes include fish, dips, salads, and many side dishes.
Walkers Shortbread with its roots in the Highlands of Scotland has been tantalizing taste buds for the past 113 years with award winning delicacies. For 2011 the bakery introduces two intriguing new varieties of luxurious cookies that will have mouth watering appeal to chocolate lovers, Quadruple Chocolate Chunk Cookies and Milk Chocolate Oatflake & Fruit Cookies. The delicious Quadruple Chocolate Chunk Cookies combine a variety of different fine Belgian chocolates in one delectable crumbly cookie. Each cookie is liberally half-coated in velvety smooth milk chocolate and includes chunks of the finest milk, white and dark chocolate for a rich taste sensation. Each of the new varieties is presented in Tartan clad 5.3 oz cartons that contain eight cookies per box and are packed 12 per case. Walkers was founded in 1898 and is the leading brand of food exported from Scotland. The family continues to operate its original retail shop in Aberlour in the Highlands to stay in touch with its roots. Walkers has earned numerous British, Commonwealth and International awards including the Queen’s Award for Export on four occasions. Walkers offer the widest range of shortbread, traditional cookies, cakes, oatcakes and puddings to over 80 countries internationally. The company’s products contain no artificial flavorings, colorings or additives and are certified kosher OUD.
My Sixth Sense…by Menachem Lubinsky
Emily, a Long Island housewife, was about to use an ingredient in a cake that she was preparing when her daughter picked up the box but could not find a kosher symbol. Emily was puzzled since she had picked up the product on the kosher shelf of a local supermarket. It turned out that the product was not kosher certified. Almost daily, unsuspecting consumers are subject to this type of confusion in kosher that is so often the subjects of alerts and warnings posted by kashrus agencies. Since the beginning of the year, the OK Kosher Certification advised that some Kroeger Value Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips were mistakenly packed with the OK Pareve kosher symbol when the product was dairy. Imagine the surprise of some kosher consumers when they found “shrimp” in sardines. The OU warned that General Mills is discontinuing the OU-D kosher certification from all sizes of Bugles Original due to operational changes at the production sites, and will no longer be certified. Now comes the issue of stores that will still have the product with the OU as opposed to those who will have the newly labeled non kosher products.
Despite all the gains in kosher and the yeomen’s job by kashrus agencies, the kosher consumer is very vulnerable to unexpected bumps. It begs the question of how an industry of that size can allow itself to be unprotected from honest mistakes as well as intentional fraud. I was shocked to see critics of kosher law enforcement suggest that government get out of the business of enforcing kosher food laws. Instead, they say, the community or kosher agencies should do the policing. Never mind that violators are no different than those who disregard truth in advertising or truth in packaging laws. Why not get rid of the Better Business Bureau and other enforcement of abuses and misrepresentations of all products. Let each industry police itself. How ridiculous, particularly in a state like New York that is the center of the kosher food industry in the US. Kosher food consumers deserve the same protection as all consumers do.