SECAUCUS, N.J. -- Kosherfest 2002, the 14th annual kosher food and food-service trade show held here recently, attracted 1,100 supermarket buyers, which was double the number of last year, according to the show's producer. Altogether, attendance was reported at 13,000.
"I had to bob and weave around people. I thought there were more people, more people from the same chains," said Kevin O'Brien, director of ethnic merchandising for A&P's Atlantic Region, Paterson, N.J. Buyers from 100 chains were there, said Menachem Lubinsky, president of IMC Events & Exhibitions, New York, which produces the show.
Forty percent of kosher food sold is for Passover, which is the raison d'etre for Kosherfest.
Among the nearly 500 exhibitors were 94 new ones. Evidence of the "globalization of Kosherfest" could be seen not only in the 35 manufacturers from Israel, but also by the booth of the Union of Orthodox Synagogues of South Africa and an oversized booth with Italian products signed Kosher Italian Picked Products Association, or Kippa.
"We've come here to promote our supervision, and our local suppliers," said Colin Kramer, chairman of the kashruth department, waving a hand at a variety of products displayed, some with familiar brand names, like Bertolli olive oil.
Each year, Kosherfest shows more natural, organic and upscale products, which help attract non-kosher shoppers to the kosher aisle, according to Alan Rovin, president and chief executive officer of food manufacturer Douglas Foods, Northbrook, Ill.
Some of the latest manufacturers to obtain kosher certification are the Pepsi Bottling Co. of Maspeth, N.Y., an exhibitor and the first kosher-certified among Pepsi bottlers; Pfizer's Listerine pocket packs and Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
"Every time I think this industry is about to peak, it gets bigger," Lubinsky said.
The show floor featured a large section of foods from Israel, with the new Mediterranean blue logo of Fine Foods From Israel, the campaign that is expected to show up soon in supermarkets.
"We are hoping to create an Israeli brand name with this campaign," said Zohar Peri, economic minister for North America of the Israeli Economic Mission, New York. Politically, he said "we are making it more of a neutral campaign, with more emphasis on the Mediterranean origin. We don't connect it to any contemporary situation," he said, even though he added that "thousands and thousands of people are buying Israeli goods to show support."
Although a breakfast session at the show was about making the most of the Jewish holidays, every speaker said efforts in the kosher aisle must continue year round. Lubinsky said 95% of Jews attend at least one seder meal at Passover, vs. 68% who fast on Yom Kippur. "People would rather eat than fast," he joked.
At the session, A&P's O'Brien presented practical ideas for boosting sales during the holidays, including a "break the fast" platter for the night of Yom Kippur.
Joe Plueger, director of kosher for Kehe Food Distributors, Romeoville, Ill., directed his comments to suppliers aspiring to launch a kosher product.
A vendor should expect to spend a year planning and promoting it, and to demonstrate it in-store so the consumer can taste it, he said.
As to pricing, Plueger said the sky's the limit. He used a not-hard-to-recognize example of the cup of coffee. Selling for about 69 cents a few years ago, it's now up to $5 at some places, and people stand in line to get it.
O'Brien recommends using a calendar of major holidays, and knowing the customs and celebrations, in order to sell more. For example, at Rosh Hashanah, if a retailer understands that honey is important, to pour on apples for a sweet year, "you'll display honey by the apples. You'll sell a lot of honey."
Retailers must offer the key items, which must be price-competitive, he said, but beyond that, complementary items like candles, silver polish, cranberry sauce, flowers and tablecloths is where the profit comes in.
An opportunity that many retailers miss is shabbos, or the Jewish Sabbath, Friday evening and Saturday. Although it occurs weekly, few grocers think to promote it, Rovin said. "You can sell candles, challah, wine or grape juice," he said.
It's true, said a member of the audience, Tracy Z. Cross, kosher store manager for H.E. Butt Grocery Co., Austin, Texas. The three kosher stores-within-stores at H-E-B's Central Markets sell out of chicken tortilla soup on Fridays, he said. Forty-five percent of the items carried in the 300 or so H-E-B markets are kosher, he said, and buses bring shoppers to the Houston store from Louisiana.
Kevin Hopps, store manager of the Sobey's unit in Thornhill, Ontario, which Lubinsky praised as having one of the best-merchandised kosher sections, said he had 15,000 stockkeeping units of kosher products, as well as a rabbi in the store, and dedicates three pages of the weekly circular to kosher products. "In the past three or four years, we have doubled our sales and have become the No. 1 store in the chain in sales per square foot," Hopps said.