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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.
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.”
By Menachem Lubinsky
It has become fairly common to see two or more kosher certifications on products, primarily to increase the size of the market to include those that have more trust in the added certification. This is particularly true for Chasidic Jews who tend to rely on “Chasidic” certifications. In reality, in most cases, there are no changes made to either the ingredients or the production process. In a sense, the secondary certification merely confirms the integrity of the kashrus worthiness of the product. It has been proven to increase sales for many products.
Not so is the case with the pending Magen Tzedek symbol, which is being introduced by Rabbi Morris Allen, a Conservative rabbi from Minneapolis. The new symbol which is designed to confirm that a kosher product is also produced in accordance with ethical standards developed by the group is not expected to gain any traction with either kosher manufacturers or consumers. During the heat of the Rubashkin scandal, the outcry by the group did not cause any reduction in sales of Agriprocessor products. In fact in a survey of 25 retail establishments in 12 states just weeks after a government raid on the Postville IA plant, none of the stores even reported any complaints that the products were carried by the store. The criteria for all categories of kosher consumers were then what it always is: price, quality and kashrus.
It is not clear who the group is targeting since most of the nation’s kosher products are produced by giant food producers who certainly meet the tests of the Magen Tzedek standards. That would potentially leave only the smaller kosher producing companies who are unlikely to assume the burden of a new tax by Conservative rabbis. In promoting his new symbol, Rabbi Allen took a nasty swipe at kashrus agencies who have responsibly contributed mightily to the growth of kosher. He told the Forward: “This is a serious religious undertaking to help restore a culture of kashrus in America. “ This is one certification that is certifiably DOA, as it should be when it tries to usurp the traditional role of kashrus supervision and the oversight of government on labor, health, and animal welfare.
My Sixth Sense
By Menachem Lubinsky
With less than two weeks to Chanukah (yes, it begins early this year, on the eve of December 1st) many retailers are scrambling to merchandise the traditional foods and gift items that define the 8-day holiday. “Chanukah is extremely confusing to my employees,” a kosher supermarket owner told me. It seems that unlike Passover when there are weeks of preparation and then the store closes for at least 2-days, on Chanukah the store remains open throughout and gifts are given the entire 8-days. While many stores recognize the opportunity to connect with their Jewish customers, which is why they “invest” in an electric menorah, they are not exactly sure how to merchandise Chanukah. Do they make the effort to display a fresh assortment of doughnuts, highlight frozen pancakes or pancake mix, make up their own gift baskets and so forth. The answer is, of course yes to all of the above and the more effort they dedicate for the holiday, the better they will do.
Yakov Yarmove of SuperValu makes sure that his stores have something for everyone in the free standing ads he helps prepare. There are chocolate coins and dreidels for the kids and all the necessary ingredients for “latkes” (potato pan cakes). While not in Passover’s league (from the point of view of sales), Chanukah has become a huge gift-giving holiday with enormous opportunities for all segments of the food industry, including the growing number of on-line gift stores. I recall seeing the stat that Hallmark sells more Chanukah cards than any other religiously themed cards. Many stores have mastered the Chanukah merchandising with a front-of-store display of the foods, dreidels, coins and other goodies to go along with specials on ingredient items for pancakes as well as the obligatory apple sauce. If you are into kosher, Chanukah is most definitely part of the mix, but it is important to make plans for a good marketing and merchandising effort and not to rely on miracles!
My Sixth Sense…by Menachem Lubinsky
Lost in the aisles upon aisles of booths at Kosherfest was a group of exhibitors who you might say were the anchors of the show and icons of the kosher food industry. Despite mergers, acquisitions, and the demise of many brands over the last decades, there were the families that helped shape the kosher food industry. At the Kedem booth, there was David Herzog, his nephew Nathan Herzog and David’s son Mordy. Despite its meteoric rise, the family flavor has been very much retained. At the Streit’s booth, descendants Aaron Gross and Aaron Yegoda were showing off many of heir new products as they take the Lower East Side Matzoh manufacturer to a whole new level. Morris Setton still greets passersby with his fresh almonds, pistachios, and other nuts. Aba Klein of Klein’s Ice Cream had three generations of Kleins in his booth. Who would have believed that the kosher ice cream company would be producing 300 different products, some in conjunction with large food manufacturers. The Klein’s of Oh! Nuts were also represented by two generations of Kleins. There were many other families who we have come to love and respect over the years.
The newest family that is also hoping to build a legacy is Montreal businessman Hershy Friedman, who acquired the bankrupt Agriprocessor and has in recent weeks been applauded for the quality of his Aaron’s Best products. Mr. Friedman was an instant celebrity at the show, despite a long history of being a successful businessman and generous philanthropist. There were other kosher notables in the aisles like Rabbi Yehuda Perl, who has successfully taken Sabra hummus mainstream. One notable absence was speed-painter Morris Katz, who was a fixture at the show almost from its inception, and who is suffering from an undisclosed illness. Get well soon, Morris. We really missed you!
By Menachem Lubinsky
I was responding to one of the many pre-Kosherfest press interviews I routinely give each year, when one of the questions struck me. “Is the boycott of liberal Jews who disagree with Israeli policy hurting Israeli products in the US?” First off, I was not aware of any organized boycott, particularly by Jews who have historically suffered most from boycotts. Second, the numbers provided by the Israel Export Institute for the first half of 2010 show a significant increase in the export of kosher foods. It reminded me of the reporters who went so far as to argue with me that Jews were “boycotting” Agriprocessor just after the infamous raid and then again when a new heksher tzedek was established by Conservative Jews to confirm that kosher products were produced in plants that were scrupulously observing social justice.
Setting aside any prejudices that I may have against any of these boycotts, there was an attempt to make it appear that the dynamic growth of kosher foods was affected by these campaigns when in fact the numbers showed no such effect. In each instance, I consulted with retailers and wholesalers and could not find an iota of truth that any of these campaigns were having an effect. Even in the days when Agriprocessor was in the news, there was not even a trace of a boycott as customers continued to be guided by quality and price. After a quarter of a century of experience in this industry, I have learned that kosher consumers do not bring their social consciousness to the marketplace. When they look for kosher products, they simply consider how the product will benefit them and at what price. Kosher consumers are too savvy to be taken by people with an agenda that they consider to be suspect and unkosher.
By Menachem Lubinsky
As preparations for Kosherfest went into high gear this week, all eyes are on the New Product Competition scheduled for October 13th. Hundreds of new products were submitted in what has become an important event for kosher food manufacturers. The conventional wisdom, and indeed the evidence supports it, is that winners benefit from being designated best in a given category and certainly when receiving the honors of being “Best in Show.” But to my surprise, I learned that several winners in the past few years are no longer on shelves. What was thought to be automatic is perhaps not so automatic.
In discussing this surprising finding with several distributors, I was relieved to learn that the new product winners that did not make it were a distinct minority. They pointed to several products including at least one “Best in Show” that literally turned around a business. So is there a formula for success? Is there a message for those products that will be crowned winners? It appears that being the winner is only part of a broader marketing effort that includes merchandising, advertising and public relations. Too often a product is left to rest on its laurels without recognizing that the ultimate judge is not the panel that decides the best product but the consumer. Recognizing that simple fact can make the producer of a new and innovative product a true winner!
My Sixth Sense…by Menachem Lubinsky
On a recent Transatlantic flight, a major international carrier served a passenger in Business Class a kosher dairy meal with grilled chicken as the hot dish. After complaining to the airline, the carrier offered a 15% discount on future flights, acknowledging only that it failed to provide the kosher meal rather than admitting its mistake. The European kosher caterer who supplied the meal simply ignored the passenger’s complaint. Several other passengers on international flights complained that their meals were “half-frozen” and one even told of a carrier that served him a Passover meal three weeks after the holiday had ended. There is the sense that despite the progress of kosher in the air, the airlines still have a way to go in training and execution. And why not? Orthodox Jews and kosher travelers are commonplace nowadays, far more prevalent than the many special meals that airlines offer without incident these days.
Perhaps the kosher caterers and the certification agencies should take the initiative and offer ongoing training to airline crews. There is no reason why so may travelers tell stories of frozen fruit cocktail and even little challah rolls that cannot be cut. What about the confusion that ensues as to whether to open the wrappers or not. Another complaint that simply does not make sense these days is that frequently kosher customers are denied upgrade privileges because the economy meals on board do not measure up to the class of travel. That would be fine if the airlines got it right in the upgraded class, but when they serve milk and meat on one tray, there is no reason why an upgraded passengers cannot chose to eat an economy kosher meal in business or first class. As grateful as travelers are for the accommodation of a kosher meal 35,000 feet in the air, they do expect the airline crews to be well grounded in how to serve the meals.
On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, we are pleased to bring you several breaking stories and many important new developments in the kosher food industry. For starters, the closure of 25 A&P brand stores is destined to create realignment in kosher retail in many markets. Read why kosher sources do not believe that this will be such a bad thing…I am pleased to share the very inspiring story of an Irish-American who may very well be the architect of the modern-day mega kosher food section in supermarkets…What a difference a year makes? Especially when it comes to kosher meat and poultry…Yes, we told you so. A hummus war is underway…FreshDirect is taking a new aggressive tact to attract kosher on-line shoppers…Tova Ross reports that if you eat kosher and are going to college this Fall, there may be a restaurant for you…A kosher cooking maven goes on line to network with others who enjoy kosher cooking…If you’re in a supermarket and see someone with a camera in the kosher section, it just may be KosherEye.com…A New Year deserves many good new kosher wines and we have the update from Royal/Kedem…In My Sixth Sense, I look at why the airlines still can’t get it right when it comes to kosher…Tova Ross in her New Product Showcase looks at the new Hummus from Tribe.
On behalf of all of us at KosherToday, Kosherfest, Diversified Business Communication, and LUBICOM Marketing Consulting, we wish you a Shana Tova, a year of health and prosperity.
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.