Oct 26, 2010

Kosher Fest Keynote: Live Blogged!

Note: Everything on Kosher Fest 2010 is cross-posted @ www.Kosher-Critic.com. My thoughts in this post tend to be in parenthesis. 

I arrived at the Meadowlands Expo Center at 8 a.m. (thanks Tuvia, for dropping me), only to discover that press registration was at 9 a.m. Growl. I sat outside, got my Tweet on, and now? I'm at the keynote address by Menachem Lubinsky, the president of LUBICOM Marketing/Consulting. Here are some comments, which I'll update throughout the morning.

9:15 a.m. In its 22nd year, Kosher Fest has the largest number of gluten-free, sugar-free, egg-free, and other dietary-restricted foods yet. The number of health-conscious and younger consumers are driving change in the kosher industry. Even at a time of recession, the kosher industry is doing good ("recession proof," says Menachem Lubinsky, keynote speaker). However, many aren't buying gourmet and steaks.

Big-name chefs heading kosher. A "trend" that continues to develop outside the kosher community, geared toward upscale. A change from 20 years ago when kosher wasn't kosher. Packaging has improved, the kosher food industry has developed its image.

Is the supermarket the enemy for independent sellers? People find a niche. Lubinsky says: supermarkets weren't the problem: people refused to update operations, to advance along with the changes of the kosher food industry. Mom and pops blame failure on supermarkets, but these stores also didn't embrace that their demographic was changing. Today, we have the "come back of the independent." In a way, the supermarket model has been taken and melded with the personal approach of the independent market to create a successful model. (I wonder if Glatt Express in Teaneck could be said to have followed this model.) Lubinsky offers Rockland Kosher and Pomegranate as examples of the successful supermarkets. And big box stores? Making a big statement in kosher (think: BJs, Costco, etc.). People are shopping all three: independents, supermarkets, and big box stores. Everybody wins!

9:25 a.m. "Map of the United States" has two states: New York and out of town (a once-upon-a-time thought by kosher industry folks). This isn't the reality any longer. Industry has learned to appreciate who their customer is. Of all new products that came onto the scene last year, 5,000 had some type of kosher symbol -- the largest presence of a single label.

Kashrut is a "constant education." Like social media, it's a moving target (that's my thought, by the way).   It's also a highly competitive field. "Nothing is sacred anymore." Production crossover has been heightened -- there's no limit to what someone can produce, but this creates havoc for the buyer (overkill as far as options).

9:35 a.m. Scenario of the elderly Jewish woman who went to the supermarket as her outing, but only purchased a few small things didn't drive sales (thus failure of grocery stores in certain locations in NY area). Supermarkets realized that it's better to have 30-50 percent of their consumers filling up their carts than to have Zayde purchasing $20 and just hanging out. The traditional, old-school isn't dead, but it's not as present as it was before. (How many kugels or sponge cakes will I spot out on the floor?!)

Question: Are people really cost-conscious? Mention of co-op projects (I belonged to one of those in Lincoln, Neb. You pay money, join, and help support the supermarket and get special prices on the food). Mention of Twitter! There are people who Twitter the specials to their friends and drive grocery store sales. (Love this!)

Question: What about fake cheese? How does it fit into the kosher industry? There's a subset of young folks that want healthy, food replacements. It doesn't reflect just the kosher industry, but the greater food industry. "If one appears to be healthier, they'll invariably pick up the healthier option." (Love that he said "appears," because this is very important. Most of the food that appears to be healthier isn't.)

9:40 a.m. Honoring Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of OU's worldwide kosher division by representative of Manischewitz, for Rabbi Genack's stellar work. Genack's a "close disciple of Rabbi Soloveitchik." Rabbi Soloveitchik said something interesting about Rabbi Genack: he dives to the depths of kashrut and surfaces with gems and pearls every day, not every rabbi can do that. "Rabbi Genack has incredible insights ... amazing humanity ... dedication and leadership to the OU."


Anthony Silverbrow said...

Would be great to hear a bit about the quality of the food. What's free range/organic as opposed to what they've done to packaging.

Also, is there interest in the industry to correct the perception that kosher is 'better' than non-kosher and instead really sell products on their merits.

Is there any attempt by the kosher food producers to reduce the amount of additives that litter kosher food?

Anonymous said...

Oh this is just so interesting! I love the idea that if it only appears healthier, they'll end up choosing the healthy option! WRONG...although I guess it depends on what your target population is...if you mean actual "health" conscious people, then perhaps he's right....but that would leave out the diet conscious folks who want things like fake cheese and fake butter etc who may or may not know that the fake stuff isn't healthy and may or may not care electing to buy the crap anyway.

Also, I think this is so necessary. The ideas that kosher food can be appetizing, delicious, accessible have not been prominent in the minds of non-observant jews (and even observant ones)...this meet up could go a long way to dispelling some myths and garnering a widespread interest in eating ksoher

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

@Anthony I don't think kosher vendors try to play their stuff as better, by any means. It's the amorphous rumor that kosher = healthier and better that just lives on. I suppose kosher vendors use it to their advantage, but I don't think that reflects in their packaging. As for the attempts to reduce the amount of additives, the speaker did touch on the move toward healthier alternatives and natural ingredients. A LOT of products (which I'll write about at length when I post a full-length post) touted themselves as natural and/or organic, which can mean a lot or nothing at all. I'll go over some of those that really live up to that standard.

@KosherCritter If anything, Kosher Fest left me not hungry at all. I was actually surprised at how *little* I ate. I was surrounded by busy, inconsiderate Jewish folks scarfing everything in site, elbowing like it was kiddush. I was left feeling hopeless about kosher food and its ability to maintain its traditional, Jewish element while also being healthy. Blech.

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