Secaucus, NJ – Continuing its annual march towards healthier, natural foods, Kosherfest swept into the Meadowlands Exposition Center in New Jersey on Tuesday for a two day run, bringing with it a sea of organics, probiotics, antioxidants and gluten-free goodies.
The trade show, which has grown over the years to become a hugely popular event, cracked down on visitors this year, hoping to transform its reputation as the biggest kiddush in town into something more businesslike.
While those who lacked the tighter credentials needed to qualify for attendance took to social media to express their disappointment, exhibitors at Kosherfest said that they were pleased with the change which narrowed the crowd down to those who had a more serious interest in the business of kosher food.
43 Minute video below from the event.
From point of sale items to custom labels and packaging to cleaning products and financial services, Kosherfest brings out many of the supporting players in the food business, but there is no doubt that the food items are the stars of the show.
Hoping to ride the very successful coattails of wholesome bars that have become the snack du jour of health conscious consumers everywhere as well as a booming market, snack bars featuring natural ingredients seemed to be everywhere this year.
Absolutely Gluten Free’s TahiniBar billed itself as a “super seed energy bar” featuring techina and pistachios, while the label on the Nakd Bakewell Tart, which featured nothing more than raw dates, cashews, raisins and natural flavoring, proudly proclaimed “Whole food smooshed together!”
Saul Nadoff of Freedom Foods said that his recently launched Freedom Bar was born out of necessity when he couldn’t find prepared foods that worked with the diet he followed to manage his Crohn’s disease.
“I created the bar out of my kitchen,” Nadoff told VIN News. “We called it the Freedom Bar because everyone should be able to live with the freedom they want and enjoy what this world has to offer.”
Meta Ball, bite-sized vegan energy balls, came about for similar reasons when a New Jersey woman wanted to find a snack for her son who had life threatening peanut allergies. Available in apple pie, chocolate cherry, mixed berry and chocolate brownie flavors, Meta Balls contain none of the eight most common allergens and each serving contains 10 grams of plant based proteins.
Heading in a slightly different direction, caffeinated Launch bars hope to become a niche product that combines the stimulating boost of an energy drink with the taste and substance of a granola bar, although they are not recommended for children, pregnant women, nursing mothers and anyone with a sensitivity to caffeine. Introduced to the market just one month ago, Meir Gross described the chocolate chip Launch bar as the perfect solution for someone who is both tired and hungry
“It fills you up and gives you energy,” explained Gross.
Kosher kimchi may sound more than a little unconventional, but from a kashrus standpoint there is nothing problematic about the extremely popular Korean fermented cabbage dish. Made from napa cabbage, white radishes and seasoned with garlic, ginger, scallions and hot chili pepper powder, kimchi is loaded with healthy bacteria and Korean-born Zipora Rothkopf of the Lakewood-based KOKO Korean Kosher rattled off a list of benefits that include preventing stomach ailments and gastric cancer while also being an effective anti-depressant and good for the complexion.
Although KOKO sells kimchi in a modest 300 gram size, it also comes in a five and a half pound sized container, a better value for those, who like many Koreans, choose to eat kimchi three times a day.
Ralph Slomovits of Pulmone Foods had a table full of tofu – water packed, vacuum packed and even pre-cooked tofu slabs in chipotle, sesame ginger and teriyaki flavors. The kosher market has responded extremely well to tofu, said Slomovits.
“The perception of tofu is changing,” noted Slomovits. “Before it was an ethnic product and we would say it is just for the tree huggers, but now it is going mainstream because you can introduce any flavor into tofu and it will absorb it.”
The health benefits of plant based proteins are only one of the reasons that tofu is starting to hit it big, according to Slomovits.
“Animal based proteins keep going up in price all the time, so this is healthier for you and has a much lower cost per pound,” said Slomovits.
Two products from Fresh Food Partners touted the virtues of probiotics. Avoke’s smoothie bowl, features half a seasoned avocado topped with quinoa and one billion probiotics. Available in greens and ginger, berry mint, coconut curry and spicy carrot flavors, the smoothie bowl comes with a built in spoon for grab and go convenience.
Desserts also jumped on the probiotic bandwagon with Abe’s Yorgood, a non-dairy frozen yogurt-like product that has all the benefits of yogurt and comes in pom-berry, strawberry, vanilla, apple-honey flavors.
Norman’s Dairy had another yogurt dessert, an all new Creme Greek yogurt, with vanilla yogurt atop a layer of either strawberry, cherry, dulce de leche, mocha latte or vanilla bean cream.
“It’s kind of like a cheesecake,” said Bracha Kimmel of Norman’s Dairy. “It has protein and probiotics so it’s a guilt free dessert.”
Bee’s Water honey water was a very unique item, one that Henry Owunna said was a recreation of something his grandmother used to make for him when he was growing up in Nigeria. Available in orange, blueberry, cinnamon, classic and lemon flavors, Bee’s Water is made from real honey, bringing with it a slew of antioxidants.
“I remember how soothing it was when I used to drink it as a boy and one day I wasn’t feeling well so I decided to try to make honey water on my own,” said Owunna. “It is good for colds, and the immune system and can help people with pollen induced allergies and athletes use it to build endurance.”
More than just a tribute to his grandmother, Owunna also uses honey water as a way to help others, with a portion of every sale going to provide clean drinking water to children in other countries.
Mint Savor is another company that believes in giving back to the community. In addition to producing strawberry peach, tangerine, peppermint, mojito, pomegranate passion fruit and sour apple flavored mints, Mint Savor does a special run of peppermints bearing the logo of the National Autism Association. The company donates 25 cents to the organization for Autism Awareness tins sold.
“I am a speech language pathologist and have worked with children with autism,” explained vice president of sales Christina Nitsa. “I wanted to make sure when we started the business that we were able to give something back to those children.”
Nitsa said that Mint Savor has been selling extremely well in the kosher market, noting that it took between seven and fourteen trials to get each flavor exactly right.
“Our manufacturer was not too happy with us because we kept sending the product back,” admitted Nitsa. “They definitely were not thrilled with us but at the end I think we got the perfect flavor.”
The humble chocolate chip was the main attraction at California Gourmet, whose vegan line has expanded to include chocolate chunks and will soon feature two more items.
“Sugar free chocolate chips are going to be a great product with a real chocolate flavor that is so good that you won’t miss the sugar,” said director and chief financial officer Chana Shusterman. “And we are very excited about our smoked chocolate chips. They could be great in chili or chicken dishes as well as in desserts.”
Taking best in show this year in the frozen dessert category was an all new item from Elegant Desserts NY: salted caramel frizza. President Martin Weisz described a frizza as a giant soft cookie covered in ice cream and sprinkled with toppings. It is available for home delivery to the private customer but Weisz expects it to make a big splash at catered affairs.
“We are always looking to create new stations when you have a Viennese table at a simcha,” said Weisz. “We have hard tart stations, chocolate stations and gelatos and now we have frizzas. You slice it like a pizza and people are going to love it.”
Another exhibitor thinking ice cream was Brian Allen of WMB Himalayan Salt and Health Products whose two inch thick blocks of Himalayan pink salt work equally well as conductors of either heat or cold, while adding a flavorful taste to foods. Popping a salt block in the freezer would make it an ideal serving tray for salted caramel ice cream or sushi, said Allen, who was cooking chicken sausage and vegetables on a giant two inch thick slab of Himalayan pink salt.
“You put the salt on a heat surface and it conducts the heat evenly and cooks evenly, transferring the heat and seasoning to whatever you put on it,” said Allen. “When you finish, you can wash it off with some water and scrape it with a grill brush and you are good to go again.”
Allen said that he keeps a salt block on his own grill and estimated that a 16 inch slab should last for approximately 150 to 200 uses.
Truffles continue to be a big trend, with new products coming out to entice the kosher consumer to go gourmet. Sabatino Tartufi has been in the truffle business for 108 years, adding kosher products to its line four years ago.
“We hit the ground running two years ago at Kosherfest and we have seen a lot of interest in the kosher market,” said Josh Goldenberg, offering tastes of the company’s kosher truffle salts, oil, maple syrup and soy sauce.
Ron Katz traveled from Dallas to share his “sauces for the brave” Texas hot sauce at Kosherfest.
“We call it ‘tomato stuff’ because it is indescribably different than salsa,” said Katz. “It is something I developed in my own home and it is authentic Texas hot sauce that happens to be kosher.”
Katz, who wore a ten gallon hat emblazoned with a chili pepper, said that he first started eating his hot sauce on challah, but that it works equally well on eggs, gefilte fish, meat and chicken.
“It is amazing,” said Katz. “People in Texas tell me it is the best stuff they have ever put in their mouths.”
While the kosher food market continues to take its cues from the secular world, trying to find ways to make the newest and hottest trends kosher, one of the most innovative products at Kosherfest was a product developed by none other than Manishewitz: sliced, frozen gefilte fish.
“Frozen gefilte fish usually comes in a loaf or a log and it takes at least an hour to cook if not more and you have to use the whole loaf,” explained David Most. “Here you take out as many slices as you need and it cooks in just 15 minutes.”
Manishewitz’s frozen fish line will be debuting in time for Pesach and is gebrokts free. Pesach was the driving force behind another interesting beverage, Ginger Tipple, a gluten free ginger beer.
“Pesach came around and I realized I didn’t want to go eight days without beer, so I decided to make my own” admitted Jeremy Sulzbacher, who refers to himself as the company’s CGO.
Ginger Tipple is made in Antwerp from fermented ginger and includes lemon and honey but because it contains no wheat, barley or malt, it cannot legally be called beer in Belgium. A former accountant, Sulzbacher brews his product in what he calls “the smallest brewery in Belgium.” hopes to expand his operations by bringing Ginger Tipple to the United States, Israel, Europe and India.
While there were many exhibitors that seemed to be following the latest trends in food, the room was packed with staple items, with enough meats, wines, cheeses, breads, cookies and more to make even the staunchest traditionalist happy. The mood in the exhibit hall was upbeat throughout the day, and despite efforts to focus on business, there were plenty of fun and gimmicks to keep everyone smiling.
There were a number of giant mascots stationed at assorted booths, with an oversized lion handing out sour belts at Paskesz, a walking squeeze tube of yogurt at Norman’s Dairy and a life sized grandfatherly figure positioned at Streits, while the Fidelity Payment Services booth had a mini putting green.
Abeles & Heymann ran its first ever hot dog decorating contest, pitting five food bloggers against each other in a fight for bragging rights, a trophy and $400 American Express gift card. The winner, Melinda Strauss of Kitchen-Tested, loaded up her hot dog with barbeque sauce, steak seasoning, French fried onions, sweet and spicy pickles and smoked chocolate chips.
Seeing how Kosherfest has evolved over the past 29 years has been extremely rewarding for Kosherfest founder Menachem Lubinsky, president and CEO of Lubicom Marketing. Lubinsky said that he never dreamed that Kosherfest would grow from its humble beginnings of 64 booths to its current size of more than 325 exhibitors from all over the world.
“I had a vision when we started that there was no reason that kosher had to be stigmatized,” said Lubinsky. “It is a certification but there was no reason that the quality of our products couldn’t be better than they were and I think we have really done that. We are in supermarkets now with non kosher products and we are selling because they like our presentation and our products.”
Lubinsky noted that in her keynote address at a pre-Kosherfest breakfast, Yarden Horowitz of Trendspotting Lead at Google reported that the biggest sale of kosher hot dogs in the United States took place in Nevada during July and August.
“I can’t think of a bigger show of support than that,” said Lubinsky.
There seems to be almost no limit to just how far kosher can go, noted Lubinsky.
“You talk about foie gras, it’s here,” said Lubinsky. “You talk about bacon, it’s here. There is almost no forbidden territory anymore unless it is something that is really not kosher. Today just about everything goes on in kosher. Anything that can become kosher, becomes kosher.”
Kosherfest continues today at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus.