Story and Photos by Howard Blas | Special to the JT
Baltimore plays an important role in the American kosher-food landscape and is well-respected throughout the entire kosher world. According to Menachem Lubinsky, president and CEO of LUBICOM Marketing Consulting, publisher of Kosher Today and founder of Kosherfest — the trade show of the kosher-food industry, held this year from Nov. 8-9 at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, N.J. “Baltimore is part of the trend of the expansion of independent kosher stores. They were the forerunners of the trend. It is a great concept,” he declared at this year’s trade show.
The first Kosherfest, held in 1989, featured 69 booths and 700 visitors. In 2019, the show had grown to nearly 400 booths and well over 7,000 visitors. This year’s event, which took place last month as trade shows across many industries slowly return to large venues following two years of the coronavirus pandemic, featured 325 exhibitors, more than 6,000 industry professionals and tighter-than-usual security both inside and outside the show, given the current nationwide rise in antisemitism.
Kosher-food industry professionals from across the United States and Canada, and around the world — including buyers, distributors, caterers, restaurant and store owners, summer-camp directors and nursing-home operators, and kosher-certifying agencies, as well as reporters, bloggers and Instagrammers — returned home from the two-day event with fresh tastes of new foods and beverages; knowledge of new equipment and appliances; and new contacts in the industry for potential future collaboration and business deals.
This year’s show felt more relaxed, spread out and a bit smaller compared to past years. The far end of the hall was unoccupied except for clearly marked “Mincha Rooms,” in addition to tables and chairs set up for attendees to catch their breath from hours spent walking the long aisles and to enjoy one more pastry, slice of pizza or soft-shell taco with imitation meat.
It also offered a new networking opportunity with a Happy Hour and selection of kosher cocktails. The New Product Competition, which usually happens prior to the show, took place at the actual show. Apron Masters Kitchen, a family-oriented cooking school located in Woodmere, N.Y., hosted the competition. The 2022 “Best in Show” winner was 7th Heaven Chocolate Snack Bars. California Delight Balsamic Vinegar by DS Tayman Traders, LLC, was voted best in the sauces, marinates and dressings category. (Other awardees can be viewed online at: kosherfest.com.)
Attendees sampled new items, old favorites and updated products including wine, honey, pizza, Korean sauces and hydroponic vegetables. Signs identified food as dairy, meat or pareve, and encouraged people not to shy away from meat, even if it would require the traditional three- to six-hour waiting period before eating dairy.
At the large Kosher’US booth, which looked more like an expanded rectangle, visitors could sample five different meat dishes, including hamburgers. One person who did not want to eat meat early in the day (and render himself unable to eat dairy for the rest of his time at the show) asked if everything was meat. “Yes, we are fleishig. Come back at the end!” A sign at David Elliot Poultry Farm, Inc., which boasted, “Over 75 years of making good chicken better,” offered free samples of chicken soup in a “to go” cup complete with a sippy top. A sign challenged visitors: “Chicken broth so good it’s worth getting
‘It’s a great opportunity to see people’
While the event felt at times like a family reunion (and a “Big Fat Kosher Wedding”) with people greeting old friends warmly, there were also business meetings and discussions taking place in various locations within the hall — from private VIP lounges for buyers to special tables and chairs near a company’s display booth. Kosher-certifying agencies from Australia, Canada, England and the United States were available for consultation. The Association of Kashrus Organizations held a special conference the day after Kosherfest at the new headquarters of the Orthodox Union at 40 Rector St. in New York City.
Star K director Avrom Pollak, who has both rabbinic ordination and a Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology, comes to the show from Baltimore each year. “Although our roots are in Baltimore and we take care of all of the locals, we are an international organization and need to be here to meet contacts and other certifying agencies,” he said. “It is a great opportunity to see people we wouldn’t see regularly.”
Lubinsky, who still actively walked the trade-show floor at age 73, continues to keep a close watch on the international kosher-food industry and reports on trends annually at his “State of the Kosher Industry” address. He seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of all things kosher and firsthand intel about many communities in America and worldwide.
He shared additional observations about Baltimore: “Seven Mile Market and Seasons have done an incredible job of presenting kosher to the community.” He noted that large kosher-food markets have the space to showcase products so that customers can choose from many brands within a type of product.
At such stores, customers come for more than the purchasing of needed food items. “They are not only looking to shop. They are looking for an experience,” he stated.
Indoor vertical farms and an emphasis on healthy eating
A good number of items on display at this year’s Kosherfest may soon find their way to stores, restaurants and caterers around the country. One restaurant owner enjoyed sampling pareve chocolate from award-winner 7th Heaven Chocolate Snack Bars. He seemed to be imagining the peanut-butter-cream bar and caramelized coconut snack on the tables of his restaurant, eaten by customers after a fleishig meal.
Many products appealed to consumers in search of healthier foods, and foods geared for special dietary needs such as gluten-free and Keto. Two companies — AeroFarms of Newark, N.J., and Bowery Indoor Vertical Firms — grow greens indoors using no soil. AeroFarms’ spokesperson at the festival, Rachel Golian, described the recent “huge interest” in kosher-certified greens. “The Torah says no pigs just one time, but it speaks of not eating bugs four times!”
She added that “we are here to show kosher consumers that you can open and eat these greens without washing; it saves money and time!” AeroFarms’ products, including leafy greens and micro-greens, are available in Whole Foods at Mount Washington in Baltimore.
Bowery Farming, with headquarters in New York City, has plants in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Nottingham, Md., outside of Baltimore. Elayne Dudley, vice president of new business development, and her team (notably pleased that their products are available in 1,400 grocery stores) related that they have partnered with Kayko for distribution, and that their leafy greens, herbs and strawberries grown indoors and without pesticides help address many issues facing the planet, including climate change and lack of arable land.
Other healthy goods included date products and nuts from Green Valley in Israel; honey from Pure Southern Honey in Du Pont, Ga.; and HoneyGramz from New York. Amber Kinsey, owner of Pure Southern Honey, was asked at a food show in San Francisco if her honey was kosher. Though not Jewish, the fourth-generation beekeeper researched kosher and became kosher-certified this past spring.
Ruth Harrigan, a beekeeper and owner of HoneyGramz, offered tastes of 100 pure and raw creamed honey infused with organic cacao and pomegranate. As she explained: “There is a new trend in the food industry of people adding flavors to olive oil, vinegar and honey.” Her creamed-chocolate pomegranate honey was the 2022 SOFI new product winner.
MM Mania displayed a handy little product called “Just One Cookie” — individually wrapped keto-friendly chocolate-chip, double-chocolate-chip and cinnamon-chip cookies — along with sugar-free biscotti. PAS Ability gave out samples of low-carb wheat wraps, as well as the somewhat less healthy but tasty heat-and-serve cinnamon buns and Noshkins chocolate mini-doughnuts. Kind Preferred, which offers bakery mixes for such dessert treats as chocolate pound cake and banana pudding, became pareve this year. Owner La Tonya King of Elkhart, Ind., declared: “I bring Southern comfort food to the Jewish world.”
Other items on display catered to diverse and special-interest audiences, including those seeking convenience, super-specialized products or simply good-tasting items. Rambam sparkling wines offers wine in a can (of Italy — two sweet and two dry), which are great for picnics or traveling, as well as for home. Sababa CBD provides four types of edible gummies to help with anxiety and stress.
Misaki Tanida of Fukushima, Japan, from Horaiya Honten Co. LTD displayed amazake, soy sauce koji and miso under the supervision of the London Beit Din.
“Not many Japanese products are certified kosher,” reported Tanida. “It is our first time here in this environment.”
Pamela Aflalo, CEO and founder of Nutty Bunny Delicious Non-Dairy Frozen Desserts, and her team offered samples of seven flavors of Nutty Bunny (DE-dairy equipment) treats and iced-tea flavors.
She started her company seven years ago when her daughter, now 18, grappled with allergies and needed to stop eating dairy. “She loved ice-cream, and I promised her we’d find an alternative,” recounted Aflalo.
Israel was represented at the show by many food and beverage items, and by the Government of Israel Economic Mission. Liraz Hayon, director of operations, said Israel has 49 missions that help companies grow in the United States.
Kosher magazines, Instagram and companies selling kosher vacation packages were all on hand. Kosher Karnivore Avigail Loloi, a kosher-food influencer with 60,000 Instagram followers, had a booth, noting “my husband and I love food. It started as a hobby!”
Elan Kornblum, publisher and president at Great Kosher Restaurants magazine, was there promoting a kosher tour to Mexico. He suggested that readers in Maryland follow the Great Kosher Restaurants Mid-Atlantic WhatsApp chats. Although he wasn’t able to offer any recommendations for dining in Baltimore (he said he hadn’t been to Charm City in quite a while), he got quiet for a moment, contemplating the idea before acknowledging: “I need to get back to Baltimore.”
Howard Blas is a freelance writer.