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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…In a frantic effort to restock empty shelves during the recent blizzard in the Northeast, distributors of kosher foods overcame some major obstacles, including unplowed streets and little parking or standing space. Shelves in many areas of New Jersey were left empty by customers hording foods on Sunday in anticipation of the blizzard that virtually left the region, including New York City, paralyzed. Retailers say that deliveries on Monday were extremely spotty but that miraculously trucks were able to resume their normal deliveries as early as Tuesday. Some retailers said that they had a sufficient “reserve” (including frozen poultry) to replenish shelves on Monday. Dairy and poultry distributors, say the retailers, “came through big time.” Jewish social service agencies also beat the odds, according to William Rapfogel, Executive Vice President of the Metropolitan Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty. He noted that many volunteers made sure that the elderly received food from the organization’s food pantries and soup kitchens (Masbia). Through volunteers that braved the inclement weather, Masbia served hot meals during the blizzard. A Meals-on-Wheels program by the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island was one of the very few such programs which functioned despite the emergency snow conditions (meals were delivered on-foot by extraordinary staff who walked long distances to prepare and deliver the meals).
New York…The sale of kosher foods during the just concluded Chanukah season were “slightly better” than in 2009. In a survey of several retailers and distributors, it appeared that consumers spent more this year on gift items, largely because of a somewhat improved economy. Last year, a Kosher Today survey found sales to be “flat”: as compared to 2008 when the industry reported having a banner year. Industry sources say that the gift market has steadily increased in the past five years but that more younger consumers were involved in preparing Chanukah parties. Some retailers said that Chanukah sales are directly tied to the calendar, They said that they do “better” when the holidays of Chanukah and Christmas are closer together, which was not the case this year. Some of the items that did well included the traditional foods like doughnuts (leaders were jelly and caramel filled) and frozen potato pancakes.
Secaucus, NJ…Kosher food marketers that put in the effort to educate customers how to use their products fare considerably better than those who do not, a Kosher Today study found. Suzie Fishbein, the award-winning author of a series of kosher cookbooks helped Chez Eider of Kolatin educate trade buyers at Kosherfest on how to use the fish-based gelatin. Ms. Fishbein said that she is convinced that such education would help sell many more kosher food products. Gitel Liebler of Quality Foods, a Brooklyn based distributor, stocks ingredients that are included in books like Fishbein’s Kosher by Design and also believes that “dumping products on shelves” is no longer a good strategy. Many of the kosher food sources interviewed for this article were convinced that one of the reasons so many new kosher food products fail is because they simply “do not take the time to invest in consumer education.” A prominent chef said that he finds that certain products will not succeed unless there is “some kind of education.” He mentioned sauces as one of those items, adding: “Sauce in a bottle doesn’t look like much until it becomes part of a recipe.” Many Israeli supermarkets invest far more than their American counterparts in educating consumers. An important feature in most Israeli supermarkets is tastings and demos throughout the store, which are used a lot less frequently by US kosher grocers.
The education of kosher cooks is what is said to behind Kosher Inspired, a new magazine launched by Mishpacha, a popular weekly magazine. Competitors like Binah also devote considerable space to recipes, further stimulating demand for kosher ingredients. Kashrus Magazine, a kosher periodical that highlights kosher alerts and features an annual survey of kosher certifications has added New York Kosher News. Both Kosher Inspired and Kosher News were introduced at Kosherfest. The new publications are in addition to many on-line sources.
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.
New York…by Tova Ross…Colleges and universities with traditionally large percentages of Jewish students, such as Columbia, NYU, CUNY colleges, and the University of Pennsylvania, have always offered kosher food to their students, but now smaller colleges with typically fewer Jewish students are trying to bolster their Jewish population by offering kosher food in their dining halls for the first time. Muhlenberg College in Allentown PA has seen an increasing number of Jewish students attend its school, despite the fact that it is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church and named for the patriarch of the Lutheran Church in America. To respond to the needs of kosher consumers, and to further push their growing reputation to the forefront of Jewish students, it recently opened The Noshery. Featuring two separate kitchens, Noshery North and Noshery South, meat or pareve/dairy meals are served to students and faculty at the college who keep kosher or have other dietary restrictions. The school plans to open the restaurant to the general public the following semester and to offer kosher catering. University spokesperson Mike Bruckner said, “Muhlenberg has an extremely active Jewish population, 37 percent of our student body is Jewish, and our college is very attractive to Jewish students from Maine to Virginia.” Rabbi David Wilensky, of Allentown’s Congregation Sons of Israel said that the restaurant will also be frequented by the community since there are no kosher restaurants in Allentown.
Also in Pennsylvania, Dickinson College’s new kosher vegan eatery, innovatively called The KOVE, serves dishes such as falafel chicken, spicy corn chili, and lentil and brown rice casserole, rather than the stereotypical matzah ball soup or potato kugel. All the food is certified by the Star-K. 10 percent of Dickinson’s student body is Jewish. Stephanie Balmer, Dickinson’s Dean of Admissions, stated: “Given Dickinson’s strong Judaic-studies program, Hebrew language and study abroad offerings in Israel and extraordinarily active Hillel chapter, we thought a certified-kosher dining option would further enrich Jewish life at the college.” West Virginia University (WVU) Dining Center started offering kosher food to students for the first time this semester, at the request of Sharon Sinay, the first student at the university to ever request this particular type of food. Sinay told WVU publication The Daily Athenaeum that “kosher is part of the Jewish religion…this is a big part of the American culture. I think it should be in every dining room and in every dorm so everyone will be able to eat.” Bradley University, in Peoria, Illinois, has also begun offering kosher food to students this semester. Rabbi Eli Langsam of Chabad, was enlisted to be the kosher supervisor at the two new kosher kitchens, one for meat and one for dairy. The food will also be available to the 700 Jews who reside in the city of Peoria.
Boca Raton, FL…by Tova Ross…Kosher food industry officials have long debated the benefit of coupons in the lucrative kosher market. There is strong evidence that as a result of the recession, there is more coupons clipping in the kosher market than ever. Elizabeth Wolf, an Orthodox Jew from Boca Raton, Florida, noticed that coupons for specifically kosher items – whether from a secular brand like Heinz or Kellogg’s or from completely kosher brands like Kedem and Manischewitz – were less common than coupons for more mainstream items. Wolf, a supermarket cashier, noted remarks from customers – who were buying kosher for religious and other reasons – who said they’d like to see more exclusively kosher coupons. After her day job, Wolf began working on her idea for a kosher coupon website by hiring a web designer and by contacting food manufacturers for her new venture. CouponKosher.com, a website with a tentative launch date of July 4th, will allow the kosher consumer to easily access a virtual destination with a variety of coupons for kosher items.
“There’s a lot of mainstream coupon savings sites like www.coupons.com or www.coolsavings.com, but there’s none that have exclusively kosher coupons,” explained Wolf. “My website won’t only offer solely kosher coupons, but it will be more user-friendly than a lot of the more mainstream savings sites, which often require users to log-in and download a printer-system for their websites.” CouponKosher.com will simply allows it visitors to click on the kosher coupons of their choice, print on their home printer, and take to the store to redeem for their purchases. The site will be a pay-per-click operation; Wolf also anticipates revenue from advertising once the idea catches on and garners more users. While it is too early to gauge consumer response, her Boca Raton Synagogue rabbi already gave the website his seal of approval.
By Menachem Lubinsky
New York…Most supermarkets in larger cities carry at least 20,000 kosher certified items, a Kosher Today survey indicates. In many stores, the number of kosher products is closer to 25,000, nearly half of all items on grocery shelves. Several food categories are virtually all kosher, including beverage, coffee and tea and cereals. Kosher consumers in the US have 125,000 kosher items to choose from, a far cry from the 16,000 items quoted in a 1987 survey just prior to the first Kosher Food and Jewish Life Expo at the Javits Center in March. With so many kosher products, kashrus agencies warn against “consumer complacency” in which labels are not checked for their kosher status. “Ever so often, you will find a flavored beverage that just is not kosher,” one kosher certifier said. Supermarkets continue to add new items with a kosher symbol, largely line extensions or new certifications on such well-known products as Gatorade. Despite the dramatic increase of the kosher fare in the nation’s supermarkets, those stores in most cases do not offer the variety, including products with many different kosher certifications, of the independent kosher stores, a major factor in the continued popularity of the kosher stores. Kosher certified items can be found in almost every aisle, including the growing number of snacks and frozen items that are kosher certified.
By Menachem Lubinsky
Portland, ME…With six months to go, the 2010 edition of Kosherfest is already shaping up as a show with many innovations and new products. With each passing year, the annual kosher food trade show emerges as the international showcase for the latest products to be introduced to the industry. To be held on October 26-27 at the Meadowlands Exposition Center, this year’s show will include many interesting trends. The number of exhibitors displaying spelt and gluten-free items is expected to grow. Traditional Greek yogurt, which is all the rage right now, will be at Kosherfest. Unlike traditional yogurts, which generally don’t exceed 3.5 percent milk fat, Greek yogurt is a strained yogurt made with cow or goat milk and has up to ten percent milk fat. This higher percentage allows for a smoother and creamier texture and taste. Greek Gods Yogurt can be used as a healthy base ingredient in dips and salads dressings; as a delicious garnish for soups; and as a tasty and wholesome breakfast parfait, mixed with nuts, granola, or fresh fruit. Different and unique breads will be presented by Rotella’s Italian Bakery, a family company based in Omaha, NB since 1921. Certified kosher by the Orthodox Union (OU), the products include wheat, rye, and pumpernickel bread loaves; hamburger buns; hoagies; ciabetta; dinner rolls and breadsticks; and specialty breads such as garlic bread, bread bowls, and flatbread. Guttenplan’s Frozen Dough is a frozen dough specialty company with a complete line of products that promises to bring many Kof-K certified products to household kitchens. Products include dough for Kaiser rolls; apple turnovers; cinnamon swirl bread; coffee rings; cinnamon pretzels; bagels in a variety of flavors such as jalapeño, apple cinnamon, and cranberry orange; and pizza dough. Kosherfest organizers say that this year’s show will also include a record number of international exhibitors with many new products.