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Beyond ‘Mom and Pops’: The evolving kosher industry

Click photo to download. Caption: An exhibitor at Kosherfest in Secaucus, NJ. Credit: Kosherfest
Click photo to download. Caption: An exhibitor at Kosherfest in Secaucus, NJ. Credit: Kosherfest

First supermarkets, then discount and convenience stores, then television and trade shows—kosher products continue to make “inroads in different segments of the food industry.”

From large-scale exhibitions to health-conscious products, television shows, and new ventures in Eastern Europe, the kosher industry continues to add seasoning and spice.

The 26th edition of the world’s largest kosher food and products trade show, Kosherfest, took place Nov. 8-9 at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, NJ. Menachem Lubinsky, Kosherfest’s founder, president and CEO, said the ever-evolving kosher industry set this year’s event apart from other years.

“Kosher continues to make inroads in different segments of the food industry,” he said. “Years ago it was only the mom and pops. Then it moved into supermarkets. Now it is in discount and convenience stores. The expansion of kosher into all types of retail has been one of the recent highlights.”

New Trends in Eastern Europe

Lubinsky said most anything that can be made kosher is being made kosher, proved by the sheer number of kosher products on supermarket shelves. Additionally, he said many countries, especially eastern European nations, who weren’t plugged in before came to New Jersey for this year’s Kosherfest.

“Many eastern European countries are investing in kosher with the idea [that] to make it in the U.S. market, you need to be kosher,” Lubinsky said, citing Kosherfest exhibitors from Hungary, Ukraine, and Russia.

One such company is the Russian firm Ozersky Souvenir Confectionary. According to Eduard Lazhko, chief of Ozersky’s export sales, the company’s plant is one of the biggest confectionary manufacturers in Russia.

Ozersky, Lazhko said, makes premium segment sweets, refined delicacies for sweet-tooth gourmets. The segments come in four different tastes with unique individual names including “the taste of a successful day” and “the taste of a romantic evening.”

“Our plant is located in an ecologically safe area southeast of Moscow in Ozery,” Lazhko said. “The plant was founded more than 70 years ago. Since then it has become the Russian market leader in nuts, dried fruits and chocolate.”

Lazhko said modern market trends and growing levels of competition stipulated the concept of the company’s development—manufacture candies combining European quality with the best traditions of the Russian confectioners. The products have kosher certification from the Orthodox Union.

“We use the most up-to-date European equipment and apply new exquisite technologies we have developed,” he said. “Our use of natural and often exotic raw materials makes it possible to produce the highest quality candies with inimitable taste. We pay special attention to ingredients. Our chocolate icing not only meets all Russian standards but it surpasses them by a number of parameters.”

Lubinsky said one continuing concern for the kosher consumer is health. There were only a handful of gluten-free kosher products three years ago, but that now there are almost 25-30.

“Lifestyle is another factor in terms of convenience foods,” Lubinsky said.

Kashrut on TV

The kosher industry is also leaving its mark on the entertainment world. Chef author, TV personality and restaurateur Jeffrey Nathan is one of the most popular chefs in today’s market. Since 1998, Nathan has been the chef-host of public television’s “New Jewish Cuisine,” the only international gourmet kosher cooking series, which is seen in four countries and translated into three languages. His cookbooks, “Adventures in Jewish Cooking,” and “Jeff Nathan’s Family Suppers,” are available worldwide.

“The kosher consumer has come a long way over the course of many years,” Nathan said. “They have become more educated in the food; it is not just simple dishes anymore. They see and want what everyone else wants. The good thing about that is that big companies like Nabisco and General Foods see that there’s a demand to make more products kosher, which helps us all. The kosher consumer has more choices.”

When he’s not working as the executive chef of The Abigael’s Group—which includes Abigael’s, the Green Tea Lounge, and Nathan’s restaurants in New York City—or on his television show, Jeff works on research and development for food at Hanes Celestial Corp, focusing on natural and organic foods.

Nathan received a James Beard Awards nomination for Best National Television Cooking Series, for his work on “New Jewish Cuisine.” He also won a matzo ball soup “Throwdown” challenge against Food Network personality Bobby Flay.

Where’s the Beef?

Dallas-based A.D. Rosenblatt Kosher Meats is another company making waves in the kosher industry. According to COO Yaakov Rosenblatt, the company is a family operation producing beef, kobe, lamb, duck, veal and goose.

“We brought kosher kobe to the mainstream and are shechting (slaughtering) geese next week,” Rosenblatt said.

Certified prime and glatt kosher by the cRc and the Orthodox Union, the firm’s kobe is all natural, has no steroids, hormones, or antibiotics, and the cows are raised in a humane, low-stress environment.

Asked where the kosher industry may go in the future, Rosenblatt said Costco seems to be getting more business as clients move away from kosher-only stores.

“They sell case ready [tray packs],” he said. “However, this is not our line in beef. We currently sell boxed beef.  But we are adding lines of specialty products. A glatt kosher chorizo and a kobe sausage are our two new items. People want more and different, and they want it cheap.”

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