They came. They shmoozed. They consumed.
At the annual Kosherfest food festival, companies large and small hawked their products, as distributors searched for the next new product, restaurateurs sought suppliers, and food manufacturers tried to entice new customers.
Visitors sported payes and tichels, long skirts and jeans, kipot and bare heads. People streamed by speaking English, Yiddish, Hebrew, French, Italian, and Russian.
They tasted everything from beef jerky, marzipan, and pasta from Italy, to pastry from Israel, fancy cheeses, and dairy-free mac and cheese. Famous brands like Aaron’s and Empire, Osem and Prigat mixed with newcomers like Burning Bush Hot Sauce and Dee Bees frozen Tea Pops.
More than 6,000 people came to the Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus to explore the offerings of 350 exhibitors from over 20 countries at Kosherfest, held Nov. 11-12. Founder Menachem Lubinsky, who coproduces the show with Diversified Communications, calls it the largest business-to-business trade show for the $17 billion kosher food industry.
Some New Jerseyans were exhibiting for the first time at Kosherfest. Among them was Z&R Bakery in Hillside, which produces Style Jerusalem breads. It opened six years ago. “We’re expanding, and we’re looking for different markets,” said owner Hershy Brach.
Alyssa Kaplan of West Orange runs the website KosherGourmetMart.com, specializing in Purim baskets. She decided Kosherfest would be a good way to meet people like Danielle Pepper, president of the sisterhood at Congregation Israel in Springfield, who stopped by her booth. Both agreed it was a perfect match.
Meanwhile, Dalia Barness, who owns The Orchid, a kosher deli and vegetarian restaurant and catering business in Metuchen, was looking for fish and dairy suppliers for another restaurant she is planning to open, as well as fancy paper goods for her catering.
Along the way, she bumped into Shraga Zablydovski, who owns Paramount Bakeries in Newark. Zablydovski was looking at the competition, and, well, eating his way through Kosherfest. “I’m so full! I never ate and drank so much!” he joked. He’s considering having his own booth next year.
Not far away, Rabbi Mendy Carlebach of Rutgers Chabad stopped in front of Joburg Meats of Merion, Pa., which produces what it calls “South African-style” jerky and beef sticks. Carlebach was in search of new products and new vendors. “We provide 300 meals a day to students,” he told NJJN. After sampling the products, and asking if the company can work with institutions, he said “Oh, this is a possibility.”
Some booths attracted and held large crowds, even after the event had begun to wind down. Neil Wernick and his partner Nate Kruman, both from Philadelphia, were busy handing out samples of their brand-new Burning Bush Hot Sauce, plain with chips, mixed with hummus, even dashed into orange juice for a little kick.
“I call myself the chief ‘saucerer,’” Wernick said, spelling out his pun and offering a playful grin. His interest in foods has been growing since he got involved with Hazon, the Jewish environmental and sustainable eating organization. On a Hazon bike ride in Israel, he said, he criss-crossed the Spice Route.
After three years of experimenting and curating peppers in his garden, he came up with his hot sauce recipe. They started selling bottles in June. “Someone in New Orleans bought our sauce,” boasted Wernick. Their distributor, Quality Foods, offered them a coveted booth at Kosherfest.
Vito Altieri, store manager for ShopRite in West Orange, stopped at the Aufschnitt Meats booth. “I’m looking for something different,” he said. “There are a lot of repeated items, but once in a while, you see something different.” Holding a sample of beef jerky and looking at the beef sticks, he said, “Things like this.”
Many exhibitors, including Brach of Z&R Bakery, said only time would tell if all the exposure pays off and if any of the contacts turn into revenue.
David Baker, president of NoMoo cookies, a dairy-free cookie company in Pennsylvania’s Bucks County, was optimistic.
“You can meet more people here in 20 minutes than you can in two weeks calling and driving around,” he said. “This opens doors.”