With Vendors, Buyers and Tasters, Kosher Festival Grows Year by Year

There were baked goods, gefilte fish, ice pops, cabbage and chili soups, hot dogs, chicken and pizza.

About the only thing you couldn’t find at the 13th annual Kosherfest, which took place earlier this week at the Seacaucus Meadowlands Convention Center in New Jersey, was a visitor leaving hungry.

From its origins in 1989 — when the festival of all things kosher had 69 exhibitors and about 1,000 visitors — the event has grown to some 500 exhibitors and 12,000 buyers who hail from 44 states and 29 countries.

No business transactions take place at the event, but it provides an opportunity for retailers, buyers, distributors, caterers and wholesalers to network, find out about new kosher products — and do a little noshing.

Esther Freund, sales manager from V.I.P. Foods/Kojel, which manufactures kosher soup bases, cake mixes and desserts, said the event gives her company needed exposure.

“It tells people what we have and what to do with it,” Freund said. “It is an opportunity to see all our customers in one shot.”

Similarly, Jerry Abramson from Empire Chicken, which services nursing homes, butchers and grocery stores, said Kosherfest is the one time of year “when we can thank our out-of-town customers.”

The scale of the event reflects the growth of the worldwide kosher foods industry. Vendors from the United States, Canada and Australia participated in the event — as well as more than 30 companies from Israel, according to Daphna Sternfeld of the Israel Export Institute.

In light of security concerns since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, bags were checked and people were frisked upon entering the building. Yet cancelling the event was never an option, according to Menachem Lubinsky, Kosherfest’s founder and president.

Lubinsky attributed the increased attendance to growing interest in kosher products among Conservative and Reform Jews, as well as among Muslims and vegetarians.

According to a survey conducted by Integrated Marketing Communications, 850,000 Americans buy kosher products. That includes a growing number of people — of all faiths — who buy kosher food because they perceive it to be better and healthier, Lubinsky said.

Kosher food has broad appeal, agreed Richard Zeldenrust of Kelloggs, whose Eggo waffles receive kosher certification from the Orthodox Union.

“We want to make our products available to all people,” Zeldenrust said.

Similarly, the founders and marketers of Shane toothpaste chose to make their product kosher this past year, the first time the O.U. has certified toothpaste.

“We wanted to market our product to the ten million American people who keep kosher,” said Jeffrey Nemetz, Shane’s president.

Caterers also made use of the event to view kosher products and ingredients they could use in their businesses.

Shalom Minkowitz from Aaron’s Best, a meat manufacturer, attributed the growth of the industry to the increased availability of kosher products in large chain grocery stores.

“Kosher products are no longer limited to kosher stores,” Minkowitz said.

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