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Brooklyn… by Menachem Lubinsky …It was nearly 25 years ago that the Kedem Wine Company realized that it was on the verge of major expansion. Its introduction of quality kosher wines beyond the traditional sweet wines used for sacramental purposes was beginning to pay off. The challenge was to develop a top notch sales force that could penetrate a growing demand for kosher food and wines. David Herzog of Kedem took a quick look around in the lobby of his Williamsburg, Brooklyn plant at the seasoned salesmen who applied for the sales position, but his eyes focused instead on a 23-year old yeshiva student, he recalled during a tearful eulogy at the funeral of Yossi Pressburger who died of a massive heart attack at the age of 48 during a sales trip to Detroit. Pressburger was remembered as a “model” husband and father of seven and as a community activist for whom “no task was too small or menial.” Recalling his penchant for detail that included tending to the needs of his shul and its members,” Rabbi Eliezer Ginsburg wailed: “Where are you Yossi?”
Nathan Herzog recalled how Yossi quickly became an important ingredient in the company’s growth. “He opened so may doors for us, not only in wines but in foods as well.” Herzog continued: “While he was our VP of Sales, there was not an area in the company that he did not play a major role in.” News of Pressburger’s untimely death shocked the entire industry. Yakov Yarmove of SuperValu who recalled taking many joint business trips with his friend Yossi, said: “My heart is torn and crying inside for this most untimely loss.” Sid Roth of Michigan Wine & Liquor, who was one of the last people to see Yossi, expressed “shock and disbelief” offering to do what he can “to help.” It was his integrity, strong character and perpetual smile that made Yossi such a popular figure in the kosher food industry. A friend said: “He had this unusual trait of making everyone feel comfortable. No wonder that he could sell almost everything.” This sentiment permeated throughout a packed funeral chapel where the tears for a salesman that many called a “prince” was filled with a grief seldom seen in the community. As the stunned crowd of over 500 people bid Yossi Pressburger a final farewell, the kosher food industry mourned the loss of “one of its best.”
San Francisco…While recognizing that this was a trade show that is far from being a show that focuses on kosher, visitors to the NASFT’s (The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade) Winter Fancy Food Show (Jan 17-19) found that kosher was very prevalent. One trend that is certain to carry over into kosher is the growing number of gluten-free products that were on display. “Gluten-Free” was named one of the top five food trends by the NASFT and visitors say they saw many new kosher certified gluten-free products, including such brands as Earth Source Organics Chocolate, Goody Good Stuff Candy and Health Flavors from Australia. Gluten-Free was already a noticeable growth category at Kosherfest last October and given its prominence here is likely to expand even further at the 2011 edition of Kosherfest. But kosher was prevalent in almost every aisle, including the gourmet cheese (Chalav Yisrael) line by Anderson, many new rugelach and hamentashen products from Chewys Rugulach, Soy Voy sauces, and a relative new kosher Jelly Belly with its many new flavors.
By Menachem Lubinsky
New York…The protest over the dismissal of 11 New York State kosher food inspectors in the waning days of the administration of Governor David Patterson quickly gave way to a huge question mark about the move by the incoming administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo to turn the State’s food safety inspectors into kosher food inspectors. Three major Orthodox organizations gave Governor Cuomo the benefit of the doubt: In a statement signed by Agudath Israel of America, the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Alliance of America the Orthodox groups wrote: “We welcome the recent announcement of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets of its intent to continue to provide protection to consumers of kosher food in New York. But we must at the same time voice concern about the effectiveness of some of the new measures announced by the Department.” In conversations with many leading figures in the kosher food community, there was doubt whether the training of the state’s 85 health food inspectors would protect kosher consumers. The State’s Kosher Food Law which replaced the 100-year old kosher food laws on the books until 2004 due to a successful court challenge, only called for kosher foods to be registered with the State’s Department of Agriculture and Markets and for kosher establishments to post information ob their kosher certification.
Despite what appears to be a significant increase in the number of inspectors empowered to look for kosher disclosure violations, many in the kashrus world were not so sure. They argue that the inspectors already have a major function and may not be attentive to the kosher nuances. It was also not clear how consumers could complain about violations, although the Department’s Director of Kosher Law Enforcement, Rabbi Luzer Weiss remains in place and will be responsible for the training of the inspectors. Kashrus officials say that opponents of any state enforcement are missing the point that kosher is a major contributor to the social and economic wellbeing of the state, which has the largest number of kosher consumers outside of Israel. It is estimated that nearly 40% of the nation’s $13 billion industry takes place in New York State. Many of the state’s elected officials say that they will be advocating stronger enforcement of the kosher food laws in the state. It appears that the issue will continue to linger, at least until the question of whether the state’s food safety inspectors can also be kosher food inspectors is resolved.
New York…The kosher food industry has significantly upgraded its packaging, which many distributors say is a big part of an industry that chalked up an approximate 12% increase in sales in 2010. Led by such companies as Manischewitz, which recently completely revamped its packaging for its Tam Tams, the industry has gone to a more modern look, using update logos, modern fonts, and pastel and other bright colors to make a noticeable difference on the shelves. Distributors say that the change has involved all categories, from groceries to refrigerated and frozen. In addition to Manischewitz, they point to the many health related foods like the line by Shibolim. There are the many prepared meals produced by Alle Processing with exceptional packaging and even deli whose packaging is significantly upgraded from just a decade ago. The upshot of the new era in packaging is that the products are much more user friendly on the shelf, say the distributors and are the reason for their broader appeal that extends to all categories of consumers. This is particularly true in supermarkets and club stores where the products have to compete with general merchandise on shelves. The focus on packaging came at a time when the industry continued to show remarkable strength, even in the face of sluggish grocery sales due to the ongoing recession. Although distributors say that some companies experienced “flat” sales in 2010, kosher food purveyors as a whole realized double-digit growth in sales for the fifth straight year. While new product introductions were credited for the growth in the past few years, there was surprising emphasis on packaging this year. Said one distributor: “A big reason for the success of kosher in the last year or two is the presentation of the foods.” He added: “Whether at Kosherfest or in the aisles, kosher food products simply look much better.”
New York… “It should come as no surprise that products that were originally positioned primarily for the kosher/Jewish consumer can find significant growth opportunities by ”mainstreaming” their product lines (i.e. having these products participate in the general U.S. food marketplace), is the conclusion of a major paper by Milt Weinstock, a senior marketing consulting and a former Vice President of Grey Worldwide, one of the world’s largest advertising agencies. In his paper, Weinstock points to such well-known successes as Lenders Bagels and, of course, Hebrew National with its legendary “We Answer to a Higher Authority”. More recently, Sabra Hummus, originally a Jewish focused brand/ product, “mainstreamed” their line and became the growth leader in the general salads / spread/ dip market, generating +$100M in sales. Weinstock suggests that many kosher products could possibly go the route of mainstream. “Mainstreaming requires a number of disciplines and resources that many current manufacturers and marketers of kosher/Jewish oriented products need to recognize,” the marketing expert says. He says that products must answer a consumer need that is not being satisfied by current “mainstream” options and that the product actually delivers in its brand promise. Getting into the right stores and having a strong shelf presence against “mainstream” competitors, which may sometimes require “slotting allowance” fees, is another major factor on taking a product mainstream.
Weinstock notes that kosher purveyors who want to pursue taking their product to all categories of consumers will have to recognize that going “mainstream” will require an investment in marketing activities, including packaging, promotions
(trade and consumer), PR, and possibly advertising to get the word out. Price sensitivity is another major factor in assuring that consumers are getting a good value, especially in a price sensitive economy. In concluding his presentation, Mr. Weinstock urges patience: “The successful brands that have made the “mainstream” transition, have done it “right” by careful study of the marketplace, even if it took a bit more time than just running out quickly to “succeed”.
New York…Peggy S., a 31-year old nurse, is a frequent visitor to a large supermarket in the Chicago area because of “its large kosher selection, including challah, brisket, and gefilte fish.” But Peggy, the mother of 4, is married to a non-Jew who understands her desire to be connected to her past through the kosher foods. According to Yakov Yarmove of SuperValu, Peggy is not alone as a growing number of America’s intermarried families frequent the kosher section of supermarkets. A new study recently put the number of Americans identifying themselves as Jewish at 6.5 million, 1.3 million more than the 5.2 million number in the 2001-2002 National Jewish Population Survey by the United Jewish Communities. Researcher Leonard Saxe, one of the authors of the new study, noted that “while some see Jewishness as a religious identity, others see it as a cultural or ethnic designation and might, for example, not answer “Jewish” to a researcher inquiring about their religion. But still, officials like Yarmove and even some local rabbis say that even those that are totally disconnected from other aspects of practicing Judaism, feel “connected” through kosher foods. While there are no hard numbers to quantify the number of such Jews, many retailers feel that is significant, particularly “once you get further away from New York.” Kosher officials say they are not surprised by Saxe’s finding, judging from what they are experiencing in supermarkets throughout the country.
Another huge discrepancy appears to be the number of Israelis living in the US. In a story by Sue Fishkoff in the JTA, it is reported that some 140,323 people living in the US were born in Israel, up from 109,720 in 2000. Of the Israelis living here, 90,179 have U.S. citizenship and 50,144 do not. But Israeli expatriates and Israeli government sources say the true figure is actually much higher. The Israeli Consulate in New York estimates there are 600,000 Israelis living in the United States. The U.S. data on the Israeli population comes from the 2009 American Community Survey, an annual report produced by the U.S. Census Bureau that was released earlier this year and updated in recent weeks. While there is some debate about the discrepancy, kosher food sources actually subscribe to the higher figure, which they base on sales of Israeli foods in such markets as New York, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia.
New York…With 2010 winding down to just a few days, there seems little chance that the remaining two inspectors of the Kosher Law Enforcement Bureau of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets will be spared come December 31st. According to several high-level sources reached by Kosher Today, come January 1st the bureau will be manned by only its director Rabbi Luzer Weiss. The inspectors were terminated as part of state budget cuts to close the gap on the state’s growing deficit. The sources said that there may have been other reasons, including the lack of any significant public protest, a cave-in by the state to a second lawsuit by the Commack butchers who knocked out (through their first lawsuit) the state’s 100-year old kosher food laws, a house-cleaning of appointees of former Governor George Pataki (a Republican), and a “non-appreciation” of the role of the inspectors.
But Kosher Today has learned that the role of the state in enforcing its current kosher laws will most likely be revisited in the new administration of Governor-Elect Andrew Cuomo. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a key advocate of the kosher food laws, was one of those who said he would take a close look at the state’s enforcement of the laws in the future. Several other legislators echoed the Speaker’s sentiments. Kosher food sources fear that the state’s elimination of 11 inspectors in a relatively short period of time will severely impact their deterrent effect on kosher establishments. One leading rabbi who has been a strong advocate of saving the jobs of the remaining two inspectors, said: “I fear that the removal of the inspectors will mean that retailers and other kosher establishments will become lax in how they present kosher to the public and that would be an absolute disaster.”
New York…by Tova Ross…The slate of colleges an universities in the US that offer kosher programs continues to expand as demand by students and faculty increases. Stanford University’s “Stanford Dining” launched a kosher option for students just a couple of weeks ago in addition to a kosher co-op community that existed briefly almost a decade ago, student Jacob Portes, ’11, told Kosher Today, Stanford has not typically ever had a sizeable Orthodox Jewish contingent among its student body. For instance, Friday night services under Orthodox auspices started only last year. In 2008, a couple of students wrote to University President John Hennessey requesting a viable kosher food option at school. After two years of effort and funds from Hillel donors, kosher food is now available to the student body, albeit three times a week, from Monday-Wednesday. Until now, Portes, a kosher dining intern, said he was cooking all of his food himself with his own pots and pans in his dorm room. Said Portes: “I really hope that the kosher food option will encourage more Orthodox Jews to apply to Stanford. The University is very supportive and is hoping to expand the program as the demand increases.
Temple University in Philadelphia recently opened the doors to a new kosher café, appropriately called Café 613. The new eatery is located in the university’s Hillel building, which opened last year. The café’s food, which includes traditional dishes such as matzoh ball soup and corned beef and pastrami on rye, can be purchased at no additional charge to the regular meal plan, and community members are welcome to Café 613 as well. The café bolsters the school’s already strong Jewish presence, including the Hillel, a Chabad house, and a rich Judaic Studies curriculum. Phil Nordlinger, Hillel’s director at Temple, estimates that there are approximately 3,000 Jewish students at the university. Said Nordlinger: “I believe that the university understands the significance of kosher food in attracting a segment of the Jewish population that has remained untapped at Temple. I believe it is part of the overall philosophy to transform from a commuter school to a residential one. It’s smart of the university to invest in this program as it has generated a lot of excitement within the Jewish community on campus and in the city.”
Tel Aviv…Has Israel become too small for Israel’s largest supermarket chains? It would seem that way from the recent buzz that both Supersol (Shufersal) owner Shulem Fisher and Co-Op owner Rami Mandel are expanding outside of Israel. Mandel has already gone public with his plans, announcing two years ago of plans to open as many as 10 stores in Jewish neighborhoods in the UK and the United States. Last week, Co-Op announced plans to open its first major kosher food supermarket in Moscow by the end of 2011 and then perhaps in St. Petersburg. The head of the Kashrut Department of the Chief Rabbinate of Russia, Rabbi Yosef Verzub, explained that this will be Russia’s first large kosher food supermarket.
Mr. Fisher has not as yet made his plans known but is said to seriously eye opening several stores in the US. The buzz began with the closing of the Pathmark store in Monsey, which sources say will be taken over in “some form” by Fisher. It was unclear whether the Monsey store would be modeled after the Yesh stores that cater to the Charedi (Orthodox) sector with bulk packages, discounted items, and other promotional programs geared for many of the large families that shop at some of the 53 Yesh stores. The sources also noted that the Fisher foray into Monsey will merely be the first of several stores the retailer plans to open. Ironically, the Super-Sol name, which was not affiliated with Israel’s largest chain, will soon disappear in the US. The first of four Super-Sol stores in Queens and Manhattan is set to open in Kew Garden Hills early next year under the name Seasons.
New York…Emissaries of the Chabad organization (adherents of the late Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the Rebbe of Lubavitch) were praised for their role in the expansion of kosher supervision in more than 90 countries. The accolades were showered at the Chabad emissaries by Rabbi Sholem Fishbane, Executive Director of the Association of Kashrus Organizations (AKO) at the organization’s annual conference on October 28th which traditionally takes place the day after Kosherfest. This year’s event, which was held at the headquarters of the Orthodox Union (OU), featured a record attendance of more than 100 representatives of kashrus organizations and certifications worldwide and celebrated the organization’s 25th anniversary. The emissaries who are stationed in countries across the globe to fulfill the “shlichus” mission first initiated by the late Rebbe are utilized by kashrus organizations worldwide as kosher supervisors (mashgichim) in plants throughout the world. In addition to Rabbi Fishbane, the Chabad emissaries were also praised by Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky, a member of the Council of Torah Sages of Agudath Israel of America, who addressed the group. 4500 world-wide emissaries gathered yesterday in Brooklyn for a festive dinner as part of an international conference representing 75 countries. It was the first such gathering since two emissaries were killed in a terror attack in Mumbai, India.
The kashrus officials spent the day covering many topics of concern to the kashrus world, including recent changes in the butter industry, new ovens to enhance kosher cooking, new procedures in DA Cows and the halachic ramifications, client relations, status of Bourbon, schechita ban in New Zealand, problems in dairy labeling, and the perils of kosher travel.