There was less noshing and more kibitzing and deal-making at this year’s Kosherfest, the annual trade show of the kosher food industry and, in years past, a movable feast for the metropolitan area’s kosher consumers.
With the once-public event now a business-to-business affair, there were fewer families pushing strollers in the aisles, or crowding booths looking for free samples of gefilte fish, pickles, cheesecake, and bison beef.
Still, some 6,500 food and food service professionals turned out for the show, held Oct. 29-30 at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus. The 25th anniversary of the event featured 350 booths showing the wares of 275 exhibitors from throughout the United States, as well as Israel, Argentina, the United Kingdom, the Philippines, Brazil, and Canada.
The annual event is a sort of pilgrimage festival for the U.S. kosher food market. According to a statement from Kosherfest founder Menachem Lubinsky — president of Lubicom Marketing Consulting, which coproduces the show with Diversified Business Communications — the number of kosher consumers in the United States tops 12 million. There are approximately 10,650 kosher-producing companies and plants and 200,000 kosher-certified products, and the dollar value of kosher products produced here is $305 billion.
The vendors paid thousands of dollars for a booth for the show for one reason: to make deals. They wanted restaurants to buy their equipment, ingredients, and smoothie machines; grocery stores to carry their teas, sauces, and chicken nuggets; and caterers to use their foil pans and pre-made desserts.
Even New Jersey Jewish News, in collaboration with the American Jewish Press Association, had a small booth to engage potential advertisers and media partners.
“Mama Doni” Zasloff Thomas of Montclair, a popular children’s entertainer, served as a spokeswoman for Streit’s, while Newark-based Manischewitz fielded a team of representatives in bright green golf shirts and chinos extolling the virtues of their product line.
Courtney Manders, wearing her green shirt, explained the branching out of the brand into traditionally Sephardi flavors.
“We have a major focus on healthy food and healthy living,” she said, waving her hand toward samples of flavored couscous. “The flavors and the ‘Mediterranean diet’ are very popular,” she said. The company is highlighting these products “to show it’s more than just matza and gefilte fish,” she said.
She also showed off the Manischewitz Chanukah House Decorating Kit, which they had outfitted with sugar turkeys (sold separately) for this year’s “Thanksgivukka” convergence.
Vendor Chaim Shvarzblat was also looking for deals: It was his second year staffing a booth for his family’s Lakewood-based company, Del Campo Tortillas.
“The exposure is overwhelming,” he said, in between refilling the large chip bowl on his table and making a quesadilla for a man in payot and a long black coat who asked for it in perfect Spanish. No samples of those were out for the public.
“My father is from Mexico City and he wanted authentic flavor in his tortillas,” Shvarzblat said. When he couldn’t find it locally, “he decided to make them himself.”
Shvarzblat has a storefront in Lakewood, but Del Campo is still working on distribution outlets in northern New Jersey, which he said was his major focus at Kosherfest.
The attendees came from across many fields. Daniel Guttman of the public relations firm BMS in Westfield came on behalf of a client. “I’m just taking it all in. I want to see if there are any relevant partners” for the menopause symptom relief nutraceutical he represents; made in Israel, it has a hechsher.
Jennifer Natt was trolling the booths looking for dinner, for herself and — as a dietician at Daughters of Israel in West Orange — for its residents.
“We are always looking for new ideas to include in the menus,” she said. “Residents are coming in younger, especially in sub-acute care, and they’re looking for more flavor and specialized types of foods.”
Highland Park supermarket Glatt 27 and its catering arm, First Class Events, sent Raya Benhaim. She has been to the event annually for six years and, she said, “every year they have changes. I see more companies here since just last year.”
She said she passes by the big companies in search of boutique items to carry and serve to clients.
And despite a prominent sign reading “no excessive product sampling,” she said she comes ready to “eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s a great time.”