HACKENSACK, N.J. — Kosher food is continuing to grow beyond its traditional offerings and gaining mass appeal, according to industry experts who attended one of the largest kosher trade shows in the nation earlier this month.
More than 6,000 food- service professionals, supermarket executives and restaurant industry veterans visited 325 exhibitors at the 24th annual Kosherfest, a two-day event at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, N.J.
While many exhibitors displayed traditional kosher items such as matzo and potato pancakes, many also showed off areas of growth, especially in international and healthful products, such as the South American grain quinoa. The industry has worked to refresh itself, appeal to younger customers and produce products that attract many consumers, said Menachem Lubinsky, Kosherfest's founder.
More products become certified kosher every year, and today more than 150,000 food items are kosher, Lubinsky said.
"It's a very dynamic market and it continues to grow," he said.
Sales of kosher foods totaled $12.5 billion in 2008, a 64 percent increase since 2003, according to food industry and consumer information provider Mintel Oxygen Reports. Retailers such as Costco and Wal-Mart buy kosher brands, and non-Jews increasingly have become a part of the consumer base because of the belief that kosher food is healthier, Lubinsky said.
Eileen Goltz, who helps to develop recipes for A&B Famous Gefilte Fish Inc., based in Paterson, N.J., was showcasing how to use traditional gefilte fish for sushi, which could appeal to a younger consumer.
"You're taking the traditional and turning it into the non-traditional," said Goltz, who has attended the trade show for 10 years.
Gil Schneider, owner of Pereg Natural Gourmet Foods, which has offices in New York City and production warehouses in Clifton, N.J., said the company started as a spice brand in Israel. It has expanded into more than 100 products, most recently grains and rice from other regions to appeal to health-conscious consumers who prefer different flavors and naturally made foods. It is also going into popular health food stores and chains such as Whole Foods, he said.
"We do everything from A to Z," said Schneider. "We buy the ingredients, we blend everything, we do the packaging."
The Manischewitz Co., one of the nation's largest kosher food producers, has been trying to be recognized by consumers as "a food company that makes good food that happens to be kosher," said Alain Bankier, co-president and CEO of the Newark, N.J., company.
It also has expanded its "health and wellness" and "Mediterranean" offerings — including gluten-free products and flavored couscous — to appeal to a changing consumer while also maintaining traditional holiday items for kosher customers, Bankier said.