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Kosherfest: It’s Not About Gefilte Fish Anymore

Shira Isenberg

Once again, over 6,000 people converged on the Meadowlands Exhibition Center for the world’s largest Kiddush, the Kosherfest food expo. This year, however, there is a “new kosher,” reflecting the demands and lifestyle changes of the traditional kosher consumer who is more health-conscious, diet-conscious, and busier than ever.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

For two days, the crowded aisles of the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, New Jersey looked a little more kosher. Separate lines formed for men and women at the official ribbon-cutting to enter the exhibit hall, signs pointed to the Minchah room and, amidst questions of bulk prices and distribution, one could hear discussions of hashgacha, cholov yisrael and yoshon

An estimated 6,000 people attended this year’s Kosherfest event to learn about the kosher goods and services of roughly 350 vendors, according to the marketing firm Lubicom -- one of Kosherfest’s producers. The popularity of Kosherfest is not surprising -- kosher food is big business. In 2010 alone, kosher food sales topped $12 billion, and the industry experiences an average annual growth rate of 13 percent. About 125,000 products on the market today are kosher-certified, with 5,000 new products receiving certification each year.

The average kosher consumer might look different than you imagine. Just over 12 million people in the US buy kosher products, some of whom are not even Jewish. About 55 percent of Americans say they buy kosher products because they believe they’re healthier or safer to consume. Muslims looking for products that meet halal requirements may also choose kosher-certified products.

“Kosher” Turns Profits

The size of the kosher market offers a strong incentive for manufacturers to choose to become kosher-certified. According to Rabbi Dovid Jenkins, rabbinic coordinator at the Orthodox Union (OU), a company can expect to see an increase in sales of one to two percent from switching to kosher certification – which can add up to very large profits in well-populated Jewish markets like the New York metro area. Many companies see even higher returns on their investment. The OU’s Rabbi Eliyahu Safran quotes the results of an informal survey in which companies attributed an increase of anywhere from 5 to 75 percent in sales to becoming kosher-certified.

The appeal of the Jewish market attracts companies with no Jewish blood at all. In front of vats of steaming pasta and cheese, Amy D’Agrosa of Bruno’s Specialty Foods proudly tells the history of her Italian Catholic family’s passion for producing kosher Italian foods. “My great-grandfather emigrated from Sicily and started out in the dry pasta business,” she explains. “My dad knew that in New York, kosher was the way to go.” Amy’s pet project is her retail line, which includes several cholov Yisrael pasta dishes. “I really wanted it to do well, and when I heard the Yiddish expression ‘zei gezunt’ I knew exactly what to call it.” She says the name of her product line – Gezunt Gourmet – always makes people smile. And if it doesn’t, a taste of her stuffed shells or ravioli will.


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