Rise of “Kosher Community” to Have Impact on Kosher for Many Years to Come

New York – Social media has definitely played an important role in the creation of a robust multi-faceted “kosher community” that includes bloggers, websites, special magazines, and events. For the first time, many industry executives are taking this new development seriously, predicting that it will have an impact on trends and buying habits of consumers and thus the bottom line. An increasing number of under-40 consumers are influenced by special websites like the relatively new Kosher.com, magazines like Wisk (a weekly supplement of Ami), Mishpacha and Binah. Some of the industry executives have taken note of what some refer to as the “kosher divas” like Jamie Geller, Suzie Fishbein, Victoria Dweck and Levana Kirschenbaum. Said one executive: “The kosher community is very active and they can spell the difference of success vs. failure for a product.” Many of the bloggers focus on the quality and the health impact of products, often directly effecting customer’s decisions.”  The bloggers meet at an annual event, KosherFeast, which takes place on the eve of Kosherfest, which many credit for the rise of the kosher community. Whereas only a few years ago, the industry largely ignored this phenomenon, nowadays many are even using the “community” to promote their products. Many of the industry people reached by Kosher Today say that “the community,” as they now refer to it, will have even more of an impact in years to come, thanks to social media. One retailer remarked: “Every time there is a new cookbook, I seem to feel it in terms of the demand for certain ingredients.” Welcome to the new world of kosher!

Holding the Line on Salmon and Other Fish in Kosher Stores Becoming More Difficult

New York – Salmon prices have been going through the roof for more than a year but some of the major kosher independent stores are just beginning to pass on the steep price increases for salmon and other fish categories. The crisis first surfaced in early 2016 when unusually high sea temperatures, caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon, and a lack of rainfall prompted an algae outbreak with Chilean salmon, the world’s second largest supplier of salmon. Subsequently, salmon prices reached historic highs due to an outbreak of sea lice in Norway, which offers the world’s largest farmed salmon supply. The NASDAQ Salmon Index indicates the price of the fatty fish increased by more than 15 percent in the last three months alone. In Norway and Scotland, Salmon prices climbed by 50 percent in 2016 due to a spread of the half-inch parasites, which nibble on the fish’s blood and tissue, the Guardian reported. Similar increases were also apparent with Canadian fish.

Moshe of Evergreen in Monsey and now opening this week in Lakewood said that most stores tried to absorb the increases in early 2016, but the continued soaring prices caused them to make some adjustment in recent weeks. The price for a lb. of salmon has gone from $10.99 to $12.99, but it is still a fraction of the actual price increases.  David Dvorkes, of the Fish Department at Pomegranate, said that the increase in prices were not passed on to consumers. “We use top of the line Scottish salmon and absorbed whatever increases there were.” Nor was salmon the only fish category that saw market prices soar. Fish like sea bass and flounder, mostly due to shortages, also experienced steep increases. Many industry sources told Kosher Today that the consumption of fish by kosher consumers has more than tripled in the last two years. They say that due to the popularity of sushi and a more health-conscious kosher customer, fish has become an important basic staple in the kosher diet.

FEATURE: From Japanese Glazed Beef Negimaki to Sea Bass with Tomato Basil Salsa, Kosher Supermarket Takeout Is All The Range

New York – Duck Nuggets with Miso Butterscotch Glaze and Churros with Strawberry Ginger Coulis are just some of the high-quality fare offered by kosher supermarkets these days. As supermarkets seek ways to improve customer experience and remain relevant they are moving away from the traditional mashed potatoes and rotisserie chicken, with many hiring a team of in-house highly qualified chefs to create a true culinary experience. The past few years have seen the expansion of many new independent kosher stores, including Breadberry, Pomegranate, Gourmet Glatt, Seasons, and Evergreen. These stores are capitalizing on the heightened demand for fresh, quality ingredients and prepared foods in the kosher market boasting in-store bakeries, sushi and fresh fish counters, and delis.

Culinary Director at Pomegranate Supermarket in Brooklyn, Chef Isaac Bernstein, believes that “kosher consumers are spending more money on quality food and are willing to pay for it.” He says: “A majority of people who come into our store aren’t the adventurous types, they simply want a twist on traditional comfort food made with highest quality ingredients. So our research and development team works extremely hard to see what current food trends we can incorporate into our dishes.” For example, this past Chanukah saw the creation of a Chicken Liver Mousse Donut with Sour Cherry Glaze, which was a twist on classic foie gras. “The donut sold really well, most people loved it, both the novelty and the taste. Our aim was to develop something familiar and comforting, but maybe a little less familiar than the customer is used to.” Mr. Itkowitz and Mr. Brach of Glatt Geshmak, the in-house catering at Evergreen Supermarket in Monsey have found a similar consumer response. “Our customers aren’t looking for the latest foodie craze, they prefer homey traditional foods that are a step up,” says Mr. Itkowitz. “Our Brisket Egg Rolls are a very popular item. We took the traditional egg roll and stuffed it with pure meat to create a specialty item. When we create a new dish we usually put it on special and provide samples in-store, then wait 6-8 weeks to determine its success with our customers.”

Evergreen boasts three kitchens each with a head chef: one meat kitchen, one Chinese kitchen, and one pareve kitchen. Pomegranate has a team of three chefs working under Chef Isaac, besides for their R&D team: one dedicated to Shabbos takeout food, another for every day fare, and a third for high-end, adventurous food. These kosher superstores offer a culinary experience that is a step above fast food, but a step below restaurant cuisine. “A short rib entrée with three cheap side dishes at a restaurant will set you back minimum $45, but we offer a pound of short ribs for $50 so it is very cost effective,” explains Chef Isaac. Sesame chicken at Evergreen is priced at $11.99 a pound, while purchasing the same thing at a restaurant could have you spending double on one serving. The price of a restaurant dish takes into account not just the ingredients and kitchen labor but factors such as the ambience and wait staff, while supermarket delis provide customers with a high quality, convenient takeout option that won’t break the bank.

Zika Scare Impacting Passover Bookings Despite Almost no Effect on Tourism in General

Orlando – While bookings for Passover programs appear strong in most destinations, the Zika scare is having an impact on programs in Florida, sources tell Kosher Today. Operators of some of the programs appear miffed as tourism in Florida appears unaffected, particularly in recent weeks when there have been no reported cases of the Zika virus. The effect of the Zika scare seems to have spilled over to Orlando where there never was an issue and where Disney and other major hotel resorts reports an only 1.3% decline in bookings. The Orlando Tourist agency said flatly: “There have been no local, mosquito-borne transmissions of the Zika virus in Orlando.”  They further noted: “Orlando’s tourism corridors are some of the most frequently managed areas for mosquito control, and we have had robust efforts in place for decades as part of enhancing our visitor experience.” Kosher Today has learned that many physicians who serve larger Jewish communities have urged their younger patients to stay away from Florida this Passover season. There was only an insignificant decline of tourism from the major Jewish communities during the current mid-winter vacation but for some reason, say the sources, the physicians urged more caution during the Spring holiday. According to tourist sources, there has not been a similar concern in the general population.

The Kosher Consumer Gets a New Address: Kosher.com

New York – It has only been a few weeks since it went live and already an average of 5,000 people are visiting the site daily. In fact, the new kosher.com site has already secured “nearly 125,000 hits,” a clear indication that it is rapidly becoming the central medium for the rapidly growing kosher community. “We have by far surpassed our business target,” says Leah Gottheim, Vice President of Kosher.com. The brainchild of Mordy Herzog of Royal Wines, Kosher.com prides itself in being a “unifier” of the kosher community, bringing together disparate and often competing interests and brands, for the sake of a full presentation of the new world of kosher. Ms. Gottheim calls the site “the kosher conversation.” Indeed, it is a site where thousands of recipes are offered, including from the food sections of such popular magazines as Mishpacha, Ami and Binah. For the kosher adherent it is an opportunity to search for a recipe of such popular cookbook authors as Jamie Geller and Suzie Fishbein or see a cooking demonstration and kitchen tips from Victoria Dweck.  With segments of the kosher population not tuned into TV, Kosher.com offers “kosher entertainment in the form of popular cooking shows.” The business model for Kosher.com seems to be working in that it is an open forum for anything kosher and allows for interaction by a very dynamic audience. “The kosher community is not about just foodies anymore; it is a significant vibrant and dynamic population of kosher food loyalists,” said one observer. Kosher.com is in the process of uploading thousands of recipes from popular cookbooks as well as opening up to private people who wish to share their recipes.  It is rapidly becoming a must for anyone interested in kosher.

Many New Kosher Items at Winter Fancy Food Show

San Francisco – It did not matter that The Specialty Food Association’s 2017 Winter Fancy Food Show (January 22-24 at Moscone Center) was out West and not in New York when it came to the ongoing expansion of kosher food items. According to several kosher food executives who attended the show, the number of new food items with kosher certification “were simply staggering.” The industry continued to roll out many new health items (i.e. low in sugar, gluten-free, vegan). This show as well as the Summer edition in June seemed to continue a focus on snack foods, many of the healthier variety. It seems that almost anything that can be dried and turned into a chip is a candidate to be included in the constantly expanding snack aisle. Many of the items are a variety of the traditional potato chip, some with new flavors, some designed as crisps.  Saffron Road introduced ChickBean Crisps in three gluten-free flavors: Sea Salt, White Cheddar, and Zesty Ranch. If it is not snack-worthy, then it might be the latest energy bar-like item, another item that continues to expand. One visitor could not get over the number of kosher hummus brands and other Mediterranean foods. “It was great to walk the aisles of this show and experience the sheer number of clever and tasty innovations the specialty food industry is launching. From the latest in proteins, sweets, snacks, sustainability and sheer inventiveness, this event proved once again that specialty foods are leading the way in expanding the food business,” said Phil Kafarakis, President of the Specialty Food Association, “We’re excited about the future as we prepare to highlight even more food innovations at our Summer Fancy Food Show in June.”

Changing Demographics in South Florida Impacts Kosher in Many Ways

Miami – Neil, an investment banker from Queens, couldn’t join his wife and 4 children in Miami for the annual mid-winter vacation due to some pressing business at work. Instead of staying in his now deceased grandparents’ apartment in Miami Beach, his wife and children stayed at the relatively new Surfside Grand Beach Hotel in Bal Harbor. Instead of renting a car, they used Uber for the few trips they took and enjoyed being just a block away from what has become “Kosher Restaurant Alley” on Harding Avenue. Some of the city’s best kosher restaurants are located there, including Cine Cite, Harbor Grill, Kosh, Rustiko and more. They even ordered pizza from a nearby kosher pizza parlor poolside. Another Yuppie-type from the Five Towns spent the five vacation days restaurant hopping, even visiting Zak the Baker, famous for his Wynwood bakery cafe, who recently replaced the bakery cafe with a kosher deli and is opening a separate kosher bakery a block away. Back on Arthur Godfrey Road, there is still the iconic Shem Tov and several other eateries as there are many good restaurants in the Waterways in Aventura.

According to Elan Kornblum, President of the Great Kosher Restaurants Magazine (GreatKosherRestaurants.com), the leading authority on kosher restaurants, the Zika virus had hurt the restaurants in 2016, including the summer, and they did not recover until the mid-winter break last month. The changes in demographics are evident in every way, not only in the growing number of themed kosher restaurants but in the number of kosher items featured if chains like Publix and Winn Dixie as well as Costco.

EXCLUSIVE: Private Label May be New Weapon Against Kosher Discounting

Brooklyn – Kosher independent stores may very well take a page from the airline industry. Faced with a growing cadre of discount airlines, major carriers are joining the discount fray. American Airlines is launching a new cheaper “no frills” ticket to compete with the discount airlines. Concern that new discounters like Bingo will cut into their sales, several independent kosher grocers are considering fighting back by launching new discounted private label items. The business model of the new Costco-like Bingo supermarket in Boro Park is to limit the number of brand items sold combined with a variety of private label items, some severely discounted. The store is said to negotiate deals with certain brands in return for the exclusivity, thus enabling them to sell well-known kosher brands at a lower price. Limiting the number of brands also requires less store personnel in constantly keeping multiple SKW’s stocked.

According to kosher food sources, Bingo has already cut into the sales of kosher retail stores that are known for their lower prices. With news that Bingo is planning to expand this model to other communities, several kosher retailers told Kosher Today that they are considering introducing many new discounted private label items to “compete on a level playing field.” Although kosher food sources originally predicted that the Bingo store would be a natural destination for many Orthodox and Chasidic shoppers with larger families, manufacturers and distributors say that the store is attracting “all kinds of buyers.”  They add that there is still a considerable base of kosher consumers that are extremely price conscious.