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entries tagged with: Kosherfest


Community unites as ‘church’ pickets

Members of Westboro Baptist Church protested outside The Jewish Standard’s office in Teaneck on Wednesday. JOSH LIPOWSKY

A handful of members of the Westboro Baptist Church descended upon northern New Jersey Tuesday and Wednesday picketing Jewish organizations and some schools and other public buildings.

The openly anti-Jewish and anti-gay organization began its New Jersey tour on Tuesday with visits to the former office of the New Jersey Anti-Defamation League, the JCC of Metrowest in West Orange, and the United Synagogue of Hoboken. On Wednesday the group protested at Rutgers University Hillel, the Kosherfest showcase at the Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus, the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey in Paramus, and The Jewish Standard in Teaneck. The group had also scheduled stops at Elizabeth High School, New Brunswick High School, and Dickinson High School in Jersey City.

Fred Phelps created the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., in 1955. The organization is primarily made up of his children and grandchildren. It regularly stages protests around the country, appearing at military funerals and public events to promote its anti-homosexual agenda. Since April, the WBC has made Jewish organizations one of its main focuses.

Law enforcement groups as well as the Anti-Defamation League encouraged the targeted organizations not to counter-protest and to simply ignore WBC.

“It’s quite clear from Westboro Baptist Church — they don’t argue on this point — they simply seek publicity,” said Etzion Neuer, director of New Jersey’s ADL. “Counter-protests generate more media interest and give the church more opportunities to have their activities broadcast to the larger public.”

United Synagogue of Hoboken agreed with the advice and decided not to respond, said Rabbi Robert Scheinberg. Approximately 30 counter-protesters gathered across the street from the WBC picketers Tuesday evening, though the synagogue played no role in organizing them.

“We felt the proper response for our community — which was a decision many organizations have made — was not to counter-demonstrate,” he said. “It was a case where the head overruled the heart.”

Scheinberg praised local police for keeping the WBC and counter-protesters orderly. At no point did anyone inside the synagogue feel threatened, he said, nor were synagogue functions disrupted.

“I’m grateful to live in a country where there’s free speech,” Scheinberg said. “I’m happy to let the judicial system sort out where the line is between protected speech and incitement to violence.”

At Rutgers, students organized a massive counter-demonstration Wednesday morning that drew between 1,000 and 1,200 people, according to police estimates — far overshadowing the half-dozen WBC protesters. Initially, Hillel was going to take a hands-off approach, but after the protest received coverage in the student newspaper last week, students began organizing through Facebook. Hillel decided to take the lead and turn the rally into a show of unity at Rutgers, said Andrew Getraer, the organization’s executive director.

“The campus environment is very different from a local synagogue or JCC in that there are tens of thousands of people here who can do what they feel is necessary,” he said. “Once students spontaneously began to organize, the option of ignoring [WBC] and denying them publicity was no longer an option.”

The rally was more a display of unity among the school’s different religious and ethnic groups than a direct counter to WBC, said 19-year-old Sam Weiner, the son of Rabbi Arthur Weiner of the JCC of Paramus.

“It was amazing to see that many students from all different cultural, religious, and ethnic divisions come together in a Rutgers Hillel coalition to unite against the hatred that this group is espousing,” he said.

“We made this rally about Rutgers University,” he added. “This event was not about giving Westboro Baptist Church attention. This was about drawing attention to the fact that RU can stand united against hate.”

After about 20 minutes, WBC moved on to its next target, in Paramus. Instead of congregating across the street from UJA-NNJ’s building as originally planned, the organization moved to Century Road, closer to Yeshivat Noam.

WBC failed to disrupt daily business at the federation or the schools, and Joy Kurland, head of UJA-NNJ’s Jewish Community Relations Council credited the policy of non-engagement and the support from local police.

“Their support and assistance in lending whatever they could to alleviate our fears … were clearly evident from the beginning of the process,” she said. “They were phenomenal as far as … keeping everything under control.”

Four protestors appeared early Wednesday afternoon on Teaneck Road, near the Standard’s office. A small group of reporters showed up as well, to interview WBC members. The Standard chose not to speak with any member of the WBC and issued a statement on how it balanced its duty to report the news with recommendations not to give the group publicity.

“It’s news when a Jewish institution is picketed,” the statement noted, “and this is a newspaper. We debated how to handle the situation and decided to give them the least coverage possible. Although they demonstrated near our building, we followed the ADL’s advice and did not engage with them. It was not easy to withhold our natural repugnance toward these people but we felt it was important not to give them a larger stage. We also wish the wider media would not give them a platform for their hate.”

Neuer praised the wider community — Jewish and non-Jewish — for uniting in the face of WBC. Paramus Mayor James Tedesco visited the JCC of Paramus during the protest Wednesday, and UJA-NNJ received a letter of support from the Episcopal Diocese of Newark.

“The hateful words of the Westboro Baptist Church were met by a message of respect and tolerance and by opportunities to educate our community about this group,” Neuer said.

More than 1,000 students, led by Sam Weiner, son of Paramus’ Rabbi Arthur Weiner, rallied at Rutgers Wednesday morning in a show of unity against the Westboro Baptist Church. Courtesy of Sam Weiner

Expo’s menu highlights taste, kashrut, health

Thousands turned out at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus on Tuesday and Wednesday for Kosherfest. Photos by Josh Lipowsky

The Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus became a kosher foodie’s dream on Tuesday and Wednesday, as the 21st annual Kosherfest expo showcased new products and trends.

Organized by marketing companies Lubicom and Diversified Business Communications, Kosherfest is the world’s largest kosher expo. Organizers expected some 6,000 attendees this week to visit more than 300 exhibitors. With a number of companies unveiling low-calorie, heart-healthy products, the unofficial theme of this year’s showcase may as well have been healthful living.

“If there’s been a change in Kosherfest it’s in the number of new products,” Menachem Lubinsky, CEO of Lubicom, told The Jewish Standard Tuesday, noting the increased number of health and gourmet products.

Danielle Praeger, vice president of marketing of the Elmwood Park-based Dr. Praeger’s, said the trend in kosher food is now toward healthier options. The Ungar’s brand, which Dr. Praeger’s owns, is well known for its gefilte fish but the company plans to expand the line to include blintzes, matzoh balls, and other traditional items — all of which would be all-natural and health-conscious, said Praeger.

The move toward more health-conscious products is more than just a fad, said David Yale, CEO of Manischewitz. The company has added a new symbol on its matzoh boxes citing the product’s health value. The entire kosher industry is looking at the convergence of “the pureness and cleanliness of kosher “ with the demand in the general market for healthful lines.

“You see a little bit more of that at the show, but we’re being a little more aggressive,” he said.

Bayonne-based Kedem has also added a symbol on some of its products about their health value, said spokesman Nachman Frost.

“We’re trying to market our items as all-natural, healthy and [they] just happen to be kosher,” he said.
This was the second year in a row at the Meadowlands for Kosherfest. Though it had originated in New Jersey, the show spent several years at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. Elie Katz, co-owner of Chopstix in Teaneck, was one of many who were happy to see the trade show back in the Garden State.

“It’s more convenient,” he said, as he searched the aisles for new ingredients to bring to his restaurant. Several booths displayed Asian sauces, seasonings, and meats, which Katz said could go well with his menu.

Stuart Kahan, co-owner of Ma’adan in Teaneck, said he would return to his store with several new ideas.

“They’re really starting to step it up,” he said of the kosher industry.

He lamented, though. that some of the new items he saw are not yet in distribution.

“It’s a big problem trying to find a distributor,” he said. “They have to give it more time.”

“We’re catching up to the real world in product availability that can leave the New York market,” said Stuart Reichman, founder of Teaneck-based Slurpin’ Good Soups. As he looked for ideas for packaging and distribution for his own products, he praised what he saw as improvements in packaging to give kosher food a longer shelf life and appeal to broader audiences.

Cheski Baum’s Luck Chen won Best in Show at this year’s Kosherfest new products competition.

Kosher meat giant Agriprocessors was noticeably absent from last year’s Kosherfest, which took place just a few months after federal immigration agents raided the company’s Iowa facility, sparking the company’s downward spiral. The fallout could be felt throughout the kosher industry.

As the Rubashkin family continues to face legal battles, a new corporation swooped in several months ago to buy Agriprocessors. Agri Star has been marketing Aaron’s Best meats and poultry and the company has been warmly welcomed back to the market, said its president, Daniel Hirsch.

“There’s a tremendous positive response and there is demand for our quality of product,” he said, as the company served up samples of chicken wings, mini hot dogs, and deli meat on Tuesday. “We’re looking to increase production in the next several months.”

The kosher meat and poultry industry has changed quite a bit in the past year, said Elie Rosenfeld of Joseph Jacobs Advertising, which works with such big-name clients as Empire Poultry and ShopRite.

“We still see continued growth in the kosher market place,” he said. “Retail expansion is continuing as they see the kosher and Jewish consumer as a valuable part of their business models.”

Manufacturers of mainstream food products are also becoming aware of the value of kosher certification, said Rabbi H.Z. Senter, executive administrator of Teaneck-based Kof-K Kosher Supervision. He pointed to an increased number of flours, spices, and seasonings seeking out certification.

To fill the gap left by Agriprocessors, many smaller kosher companies became regional suppliers, Rosenfeld said. He also pointed to increased lines at companies such as Solomon’s and Empire, which recently began producing meat in addition to poultry.

This results in more competition and better prices for the consumer, Rosenfeld said. Agri Star’s Hirsch said the price of kosher meat has dropped since Aaron’s returned, but the Standard could not verify that claim.

Lubinsky said the industry had to wait for the new owners to “find their oats” but he predicted the company could become a major player once again.

Kosherfest also highlighted 18 new items in its annual new products competition. Judges crowned Luck Chen, a line of Asian noodles, this year’s Best in Show. Cheski Baum didn’t like what his children were eating. When they wanted a quick bite, their options were full of sodium, MSG, and calories.

After exploring culinary options in Asia, he unveiled Luck Chen heat-and-serve noodle meals earlier this year. Baum credits his business model for his success, acknowledging he’s going about things a little differently.

“Our business model puts profit second,” he said. “Our goal is to make something good for the customer.”

Baum is looking to expand the business with soups, spices, and sauces. Luck Chen, which comes in a variety of Asian flavors, will “probably revolutionize the industry of the quick meal,” he said.


Dairy-free cookbook makes for easy dessert-making

In time for High Holy Day gift-giving, pastry chef and teacher Paula Shoyer has published her first cookbook, “The Kosher Baker” (Brandeis University Press/University Press of New England), seeking to “breathe fresh life into pareve desserts and breads.” Shoyer is the editor of Susan Fishbein’s cookbooks “Kosher by Design Entertains” and “Kosher By Design Kids in the Kitchen.”

Many recipes contain amusing anecdotes, beginning with one from Shoyer herself, found in the preface. “In the beginning,” she writes, “my mother baked once a year with cake mixes during Passover.” The story continues, with the author explaining how the book came to be. Nearly one-fourth of the recipes can be mixed in one bowl and are ready for the oven in 15 minutes.

The cookbook is beautifully illustrated — with color and black and white photos by Michael Bennett Kress — making it easy to visualize what the dessert will look like.

For those with a diabetic in the family, Shoyer has included no-sugar-added desserts in the “Passover & Other Special Diets” section (see recipe below for Mandelbread — No-Sugar-Added). There are also gluten-free, nut-free, and vegan choices.

Sections are clear and easy to follow, with advice on storing, freezing, thawing, must-have tools and ingredients, and tips and techniques. The book is for the novice or cook-on-the-go, as well as for more serious bakers. Sections range from recipes with 15-minute preparation time (“Quick & Elegant Desserts”); to “Two-Step Desserts,” with 15-30 minutes prep time; to “Multiple-Step Desserts & Breads,” which take more than 30 minutes to prepare.

There is something for everyone, and all 160 plus recipes, “from traditional to trendy,” are dairy-free. Why not get a copy at local Judaica or retail bookstores or from and give it to a friend? You might then ask the recipient to make you a few of its mouth-watering desserts.

No-Sugar-Added Mandelbread

The Kosher Baker

Makes about 30 cookies

This is a helpful recipe to have — particularly if a diabetic is joining you for dinner. The cookies are delicious, though sugar-free. They can also survive a voyage.

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

Dash of salt

¾ cup granulated sugar substitute, such as Splenda

1 tsp. sugar-free vanilla syrup

3 large eggs

½ cup canola or vegetable oil

¼ cup orange juice

1/3 cup sliced almonds

1/3 cup whole, unsalted, cashews, or shelled pistachio nuts (for pistachios, about ¼ pound of nuts in their shells)

1/3 cup dried cranberries (not the sweetened kind)

1/3 cup raisins

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment.

2. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar substitute, vanilla syrup, eggs, oil, and orange juice. Set aside.

3. Place the sliced almonds and cashews or whole pistachio nuts in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process for about 45 seconds, or until the nuts are in small pieces but not completely ground. You can also place the nuts in a bag and band with a rolling pin until they are in small pieces. Add to the dough. Place the cranberries and raisins in the food processor and chop into small pieces, about 30 seconds. You can also chop by hand. Add to the dough and mix in.

4. Divide the dough in half and use your hands to shape into 2 loaves, 3 x 8 inches each. Place on prepared cookie sheet about 4 inches apart.

5. Bake for 35 minutes. Slide the parchment off the cookie sheet. Use a sharp knife to slice each loaf into ¾ to 1-inch slices.

6. Place a new piece of parchment on the cookie sheet and place the slices cut-side down on the parchment. Bake for 5 minutes. Let cool on a rack.

Storage: Place in an airtight container or freezer bags and store at room temperature for up to five days or freeze up to three months.


Kosherfest expo at Meadowlands highlights new products

Thousands came to the 2010 Kosherfest this week looking for the latest in kosher products. JOSH LIPOWSKY

Thousands of restaurateurs, food vendors, and distributors, all looking for the next big thing in kosher food, gathered at The Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus earlier this week for the annual Kosherfest expo.

No longer is the kosher consumer satisfied with the traditional Ashkenazi meat and potatoes, said kosher industry insider and Lubicom CEO Menachem Lubinsky during an address shortly before the expo opened on Tuesday. Now, he said, the average kosher consumer is younger and wants whatever can be made kosher to be made kosher.

“This … is a change not only in demographics, but also in the character [of the kosher consumer],” he said. “Forty years ago it was the candles, the matzoh, and the grape juice. Today — gourmet cheese, sushi…. Chicken is not chicken anymore. Everything is variety.”

Lubicom of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Diversified Business Communications of Portland, Maine, organized the two-day expo, which attracted more than 6,000 people — up 600 from last year’s expo — visiting 340 exhibitors, 40 more than last year.

According to Lubicom, there are 125,000 kosher products in the U.S. market, with 3,400 products certified just in 2009. Of 30,000 supermarkets across the country, 18,000 have kosher sections, and there are, on average, 19,000 kosher products in U.S. supermarkets. Kosher food is an almost $14 billion industry, according to Lubicom.

It wasn’t always like this.

Through the past 100 years, kosher food has rocketed from obscurity into the mainstream, said cookbook author and food historian Rabbi Gil Marks, who gave a presentation later Tuesday on “The History of Jewish Food.”

“The Jews’ role in culinary history is not in innovation,” he said, “but in transportation and transmission.”

The H.J. Heinz Co. was the first to produce a product in America with a now almost-ubiquitous kosher symbol. Wanting to market his new baked beans to the growing Jewish population, Heinz met in 1925 with Joseph Jacobs, founder of Joseph Jacobs Advertising, and members of the Union for Orthodox Jewish Congregations. The result was the now-famous OU symbol, which first appeared on Heinz baked beans.

When Entenmann’s put its entire line under kosher supervision in the early 1980s, other companies took note — the company’s products received better placement in grocery stores. This, Marks said, spurred more companies to seek out kosher certification; today, many finance certification under their advertising budgets.

“There’s been an amazing transformation in just over a century of this obscure Jewish ritual becoming a necessity in the American market,” Marks said.

Established companies like Osem, Manischewitz, and Kedem were all at Kosherfest showing off new products, but the expo attracted smaller companies as well. This was the third Kosherfest for Joe Peikes, vice president of the Paterson-based Geshmak, which makes pickles and salads.

“We’re a young company and looking for good exposure and more relationships,” he said. “Every year I’ve been here I’ve picked up a major account.”

The show was also an opportunity for companies looking to break into the multi-billion-dollar U.S. kosher market. Michel Bitton’s kosher pre-made crepes appear in markets across Europe, distributed to grocery chains and marketed under their generic brands. He brought his Belgian Crepes from Brussels to Kosherfest for the first time, to try to find a stateside distributor. “We’re here to test the market,” he said. “We have some good response, positive feedback from people.”

Mister Chopstick Express was another company looking to pick up a distributor at the expo. The less-than-two-year-old company from Miami makes frozen Chinese-style meat dinners, which are at present available only in Miami markets.

“I don’t think there’s another opportunity like this anywhere in the country,” Zev B. Roth, the company’s marketing director, said of Kosherfest.


Fish, fowl, and good red meat

Our intrepid reporter visits the Kosherfest Expo in the Meadowlands

Josh LipowskyLocal
Published: 23 November 2012
Kosherfest’s show floor

Shalom Ber Cadaner spent the past year trying to get carp to taste like salami.

The result was a line of pareve “meats” all made out of carp, which he unveiled for the first time last week during the annual Kosherfest Expo at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, where thousands of food retailers, restaurateurs, and food journalists were looking to keep abreast of the latest trends in kosher food.

Crystal Springs, which is distributing Cadaner’s faux meats, was one of the more than 600 companies displaying its latest kosher options at the show. Kosherfest drew big names like Manischewitz and Aaron’s, as well as smaller companies looking for distributors and to introduce their products.

“I’m just amazed honestly,” Cadaner said. “Everybody’s very excited about it. I look at people’s faces and they’re just shocked” that it’s fish.

Kosher food is a $12 billion a year industry, according to expo founder Menachem Lubinsky, CEO of Lubicom Marketing. The key words in the kosher industry right now, he said, are market share.

A customer might decide to go to one store instead of another because the produce is fresher, the coleslaw at the deli counter looks better, or the store’s layout is more appealing. Store owners have to keep all of these elements in mind, Lubinsky said, and make their products and stores stand out.

To gain market share, the industry needs to focus on product enhancement, and relationships must be built between the brand, the store, and the customer.

“You need to think beyond kosher, you need to think about the store,” he said. “Know that the kosher consumer is sometimes evaluating the store based on things that have nothing to do with kosher.”

While some companies have started putting recipes on their packaging, not enough manufacturers are teaching consumers how to use their products, according to Lubinsky. “Teaching consumers how to use the product can, in many cases, double the sales of a product, because if you do teach the consumer how to use it, they will use it; they experiment with it; they will try it.”

The kosher market can be a gateway to larger vendors as well, said Elie Rosenfeld, CEO of Joseph Jacobs Advertising in New York, which handles big brands Manischewitz and Empire. General market companies or specialty brands that are kosher and want to break into larger markets are turning first to specialty stores as steppingstones to build their brands. And in the big chain stores these companies will play up the kosher connection as a way to break into crowded markets.

“If you’re a chip company you can’t go up against Frito-Lay,” he said. “But if you’re a specialty kosher chip company, you can say, ‘I’ll go in the kosher aisle. It’s a foot in the door.’”

Getting onto the shelf is only part of the battle. Once there, products have to set themselves apart from the competition.

“Packaging and shelf-presence is in a sense the most important thing beyond quality and taste for the product because the biggest hurdle any brand is going to have is getting the product into the supermarket,” Rosenfeld said. “You’re competing against very similar and very comparable products in the same category. There are going to be 12 cookie people, 12 rugelach people. Having a product that appeals to the buyer, to have something different, allows the retailer to look more high tech, more with it.”

Companies are looking to “green” their packaging, he said. Packaging is becoming more contemporary by becoming minimalistic as consumers increasingly look for biodegradable or recyclable packages.

With so much competition around, recyclable packaging might be what makes the difference between brand A and brand B getting on the store shelf, he said. More companies are turning to resealable packaging, and for Empire, which began using resealable tubs for its sliced turkey a few years ago, this has been a hit with customers, he said.

“People are loving those tubs,” he said, noting people reuse them for everything from food storage to arts and crafts.

Almost 20 Israeli companies attended this year’s show, trying to find North American distributors, or, in the case of established companies like Osem, unveiling new products.

As in previous years, Osem had a large display highlighting its products, including its Pearl Couscous with Rice, Roasted Garlic & Sun-Dried Tomatoes, which won the Best in Show award in the new pasta or rice category. The company also revealed new mixes for Passover rolls and pancakes, and an all-natural macaroni and cheese mix. The company is trying to answer the growing demands of health-conscious consumers, said Kobi Afek, Osem’s head of marketing.

“Today the consumer looks for short time of preparation, ease of preparation, no more than 10 to 15 minutes at most,” he said. “There is an increasing demand for all-natural and gluten-free items; and high kosher supervision. So when they get it from Osem, they get all three.”

Pointing to the yellow color scheme on the mix packages, Afek said that the company is trying to make it easier for consumers to recognize Osem brands.

“It’s a color that’s been associated with kitchens. It’s a warm color. [And] it’s part of our corporate brand colors.”

Skinny Kosher Creations, a Woodstock, N.Y. company that unveiled a line of kosher vegetarian weight-loss foods at the show, is trying something a little different with its packaging. There’s no picture of the product on the box. The company plans to use barcodes on the packaging that customers can scan with their smartphones, which will direct them to the company’s website.

“When you walk into a supermarket, we’re always inspired by the marketing,” Brenda Laredo, one of the company’s founders, said. “I’m looking at pictures of food everywhere and I’m not sure where to direct myself. We want to set ourselves apart from everybody else. The skinny speaks for itself.”

Most manufacturers realize that new products drive sales, Lubinsky said, but many still don’t factor in the consumers, and that is where variables like packaging come into play. Kosher food is no longer just a basic staple, it’s an experience and a social phenomenon, he added, noting that Jewish bookstores sell more kosher cookbooks than religious books today.

“It’s become sort of a culture” of its own, he said.

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