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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tel Aviv…Israel’s wine industry continues to score big with wine reviewers and in international competition, but its sales do not reflect its new status, several Israeli wine experts told Kosher Today. The experts say that the quality of Israeli wines “is still very much a secret, although it is slowly gaining traction.” In the first 10 months of 2010, Israel exported $18 million worth of wines, according to an extensive report released by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. But given its new prominence, say the experts, the figures should have been at least double. The latest confirmation of the quality of the Israeli wines came from noted wine critic Mark Squires who tasted 76 wines from 17 wineries, including such well-known wineries as Yarden and Golan Heights Wineries. As reported in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, 12 of the wines scored 90 and above. The top scorers were Castel Grand Van, Domaine du Castel 2008 and Sycra Muscat, Clos de Gat 2006, with 93 points each. Carmel Limited Edition, Carmel Winery 2007 and Yatir Forest, Yatir Winery 2007 were each ranked a 91. Avidan Winery’s Fringe Full Wine, 2008, and Tagkaton Blend des Noirs, 2008, each scored 90 points, as did Petit Castel, Domaine du Castel 2008 and Yarden Heights Wine, Golan Heights Winery 2008. Experts believe that the Israeli wines could better compete with other European wines, for example, if “there was a budget for marketing.” Others thought that the answer would come from better sales and distribution. There was a sense amongst the experts that the Israeli wines would “pick up steam” in the coming years but that “it will be a slow process.”
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”.