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."