Inside Kosherfest 2014. Photograph by Liza Schoenfein
The first food that jumped out at me yesterday when I walked into the vast Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, New Jersey, for Kosherfest 2014 was the gluten-free granola. The latest offering from Foodman’s Original Matzolah, the cranberry-and-orange flavored product is wheat- and nut-free. Its prominent placement (Matzolah is distributed by Streit’s, whose matzo is a key ingredient) heralded what seemed to me to be the trend of the show: foods that not only follow the laws of kashrut but also specifically address other dietary restrictions, whether they involve gluten intolerance, veganism, or avoidance of dairy.
Among the gluten-free highlights at Kosherfest — the largest business-to-business trade show for the kosher industry — were new matzo ball mixes from Streit’s and the Manischewitcz Company, which also offered a gluten-free brownie mix.
Since the whole point of chicken nuggets is bite-sized convenience, showing off the world’s largest one — as Empire Kosher Poultry plans to do tomorrow — seems a bit oxymoronic, kind of like “jumbo shrimp.”
Not that any shellfish — jumbo or otherwise — will come anywhere near Empire’s record-setting nugget, which will be displayed at the Kosherfest trade show.
The 25th-annual, two-day kosher food expo kicks off in Secaucus, N.J., tomorrow and is expected to draw more than 6,000 people, all of them ready to nosh.
In addition to the 40-plus-pound nugget, Kosherfest will feature products from over 300 companies and more than 20 countries.
For the first — and perhaps last — time, the expo will also include a kosher supervisory agency run by a non-Orthodox rabbi. Rabbi Jason Miller’s Kosher Michigan certifies more than 50 businesses and is one of only a handful of non-Orthodox supervising agencies in North America. In an email interview, Menachem Lubinsky, Kosherfest’s founder and co-producer, said that Kosher Michigan is “the first non-Orthodox agency that has even attempted to exhibit at the show” and that it “fell between the cracks.”
“The sales people did not realize that Michigan Kosher was not an Orthodox agency,” he said. “The show is under the kosher supervision of the Association of Kashrus Organizations (AKO) and there will be signs posted throughout the show that AKO takes responsibility only for those booths that are either AKO members or offer products that meet AKO standards. He is clearly not a member and his products do not meet AKO standards. Show management will take steps to assure that only AKO approved exhibitors participate in the show in 2014.”
Interviewed by phone, Miller, who is based in suburban Detroit and certifies over 50 companies, most of them in the Midwest, emphasized that he had not hidden his Conservative identity; in fact, Kosher Michigan’s exhibitor blurb, which he said has been on the Kosherfest website for months, states in the first sentence that the agency was founded in 2008 by a Conservative rabbi.
Kosherfest, the largest (and only) kosher food industry trade show in the world, hosted its 24th annual expo in Secaucus, NJ, on November 13th and 14th. Thousands of players in the kosher food world show up each year, from giants like Manischewitz, Streit’s and Osem, to the godfathers of kosher certification, including the big four: the Orthodox Union, Circle K, Star-K and Kof-K.
But a multitude of small, niche entrepreneurs in the industry show up as well, reflecting not just the trajectory of kosher food over the years, but the way in which overarching American food trends filter into the Orthodox world. Kosherfest is a far cry from the artisan food world of Brooklyn, where we are from — and where our business, The Gefilteria, is located. So we went down to New Jersey to report as independent purveyors. Here’s our minute-by-minute view of this very kosher landscape.
If you shop in almost any grocery store in the US, chances are you have bought a product that is certified Kosher. According to Sue Fishkoff’s new “Kosher Nation” “one third to one half of the food for sale in the typical American supermarket is kosher.” This is big business, “$200 billion of the country’s estimated $500 billion in annual food sales is kosher certified.” Kosher food is often perceived to be more pure or cleaner than treyf, yet it seems that there are many parallels between the Kosher and mainstream food industries.
Kosherfest, which is taking place this week in New Jersey, is an annual gathering, highlighting this big business. It is the time a year where Kosher food producers gather to tout their wares to industry professionals, supermarket buyers, chefs, and other food service providers.
In his keynote presentation, Menachem Lubinksy, founder and president of LUBICOM Marketing and Consulting, and co-producer of Kosherfest, claimed that the industry is moving towards offering healthier products. Apparently schmaltz is out, and olive oil is in. Yet, spending a day at Kosherfest made me wonder, is the kosher industry actually trying to produce healthy and sustainable products, or are they just greenwashing (promoting a product as environmentally friendly, when it actually isn’t)?