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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.”
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…The announcement by the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. Inc. (A&P) that it was closing 25 of its stores in New York and several other states next month was greeted by leaders of the kosher food industry as a “blow” but far from a disaster. Many of the stores to be closed were considered “kosher” stops by the industry, but officials believe that the losses from sales to these stores will be made up either by other retailers who will “fill the space” or by nearby competitors. Although A&P did not confirm the locations, Kosher Today has learned that amongst the stores to be closed is the Pathmark in Monsey, once considered one of the nation’s leading kosher stores (see our inspiring story on Kevin O’Brien). Other stores with considerable sales of kosher that are said to be on the list are the Waldbaum’s in Garden City and Levittown, the Pathmark stores in Marlboro, Fort Lee, North Bergen, and North Brunswick, all in New Jersey. Kosher Today has been unable to confirm rumors that another major retail chain would move into the vacated space in Monsey. In fact, local real estate agents said that the space was extremely expensive and wondered whether any new store could compete with such huge kosher independent stores as Rockland Kosher that appear to have a lock on the local kosher business.
Kosher industry sources say that the big winner will be ShopRite, which happens to have stores near the majority of the A&P locations to be closed. Unlike A&P, Wakefern, the parent company of ShopRite and many of the owners of ShopRite brand stores have invested a considerable amount of resources in their kosher program. The sources believe that many of the ShopRite stores will attract customers from the defunct stores. Some industry leaders were particularly sad about the closing of the Waldbaum’s stores, which at one time was considered the leading brand store in the Jewish community. Said one Long Island distributor: “I used to associate the face of Julia Waldbaum with Rosh Hashanah as her photo was on ads in Jewish periodicals wishing the Jewish community a happy new year. I also use to have a Waldbaum’s Jewish calendar on my wall.”
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…With Rosh Hashanah looming on the eve of September 8th, many in the kosher industry are invoking a line made famous by Comedian Jackie Mason: “The Jewish holidays are either early or late; they’re never on time!” The early Rosh Hashanah, less than three days after Labor Day, will force the industry to advance preparations to early August, say sources in the kosher food industry. At least one distributor already lamented that he would not be able to take his “usual vacation.” He was already busy preparing to ship to the Catskill Mountains in Upstate New York where an estimated 300,000 vacationers will converge, albeit for a somewhat shortened stay this year. Several retailers said that they traditionally did better when Rosh Hashanah was late. Said one: “I usually get two major surges, replenishments (people returning from vacation) after Labor Day and before the holidays; now it’s folded into one.” It will also cut into the lucrative advertising business for many Jewish publications since Rosh Hashanah is a prime advertising season, second only to Passover. In some markets, Rosh Hashanah has emerged as the primary gift-giving season of such items as gourmet honey and fine wines.