December 28, 2015

2015 in Review: A Year of Dramatic Change for Kosher

Paris - The biggest story of the year was in Europe. It began with the tragic attack on the Hypercacher kosher supermarket, killing 4 Jews and sending shockwaves through the Jewish community in France. Just hours before the Shabbos, the shoppers were making last-minute purchases. The store reopened after many months but the aftershocks would continue throughout the year. Several thousand French Jews immigrated to Israel. The store has since reopened but the fears of a community under siege have not subsided. It was not the only story that affected kosher in Europe. Kosher slaughter continued to be under attack as the EU beat back new attempts to curb schechita and new threats emerged in the Netherlands despite the relatively small number of animals slaughtered according to kosher law. Poland came to its senses and reversed a ban against schechita, perhaps saving its $460 million kosher meat industry. Resurgent anti-Semitism took its toll in many countries, including attempts to label products manufactured over the Green Line in Israel. Despite these developments, kosher is thriving in Europe with nearly $1 billion sold in France alone. Several new restaurants opened in Paris and London and a new supermarket opened in Berlin.

Israel’s kosher food industry continued its dramatic growth exceeding $22 billion despite a new round of terrorism now three months old. One of its largest companies, Tnuva was acquired by a Chinese food giant. Its wine industry grew to over $220 million, with $40 million exported to the US. In general, Israel’s food exports to North America reached a record $340 million in 2015.

In the US, some of the largest kosher food companies made news. The closure of the Streit’s plant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan was the end of an era for a company that was founded by Aron Streit in 1925. What was once a tourist attraction for people wishing to watch the Matzohs being produced on Rivington Street that were also sold at an adjacent outlet store was no more. The company has continued in operation at its Moonachie NJ facility and is due to resume production out of a new plant sometime in 2016. The new ownership of Manischewitz hired David Sugarman as its new CEO as the company that acquired Manischewitz seeks to regain its prominence in the kosher food industry. The iconic kosher brand, Empire Poultry, was acquired by Hain- Celestial. Kedem consolidated its food division and opened a magnificent facility in Bayonne NJ. The company was named Kayco. Gold’s, known for its horseradish, was acquired by LaSalle Capital, also owns of Westminster Cracker. Bob Abramowitz was named the CEO of both.

Kosher retail made big news in 2015 with the announcement of the planned opening of new stores in Lakewood NJ, Baltimore Md, and Cleveland, Ohio by such chains as Evergreen, Gourmet Glatt and Season’s. Several new stores are also on the drawing board in the New York area as independent kosher stores continue to expand primarily in growing Jewish communities. At the same time it was the end of an era for most A&P, Waldbaum’s and Pathmark stores, some of them scooped up by Stop & Shop. In Chicago, Mariano’s opened an impressively large kosher section. In Detroit, Kroger acquired the popular Hiller’s stores and vowed to continue to serve kosher consumers. Whole Foods stepped up its expansion in kosher, including a joint program with Kedem. In a major announcement by Albertson’s, Yakov Yarmove, a leading figure in the kosher food industry, was named the new kosher category manager for the chain.

In foodservice, more kosher food was made available in many key airports including New York, New Jersey, Ft. Lauderdale and Boston. Kosher food options were also made available at London’s Heathrow Airport and at Dodger’s Stadium in Los Angeles. A major New York City Hospital, Beth Israel owned by Mt. Sinai, announced the closing of its kosher kitchen in favor of kosher meals that will be brought in from Mt. Sinai and warmed in supervised microwave ovens. It was also a year of many new openings of kosher restaurants, primarily in New York, New Jersey, and Florida. Passover programs continued to grow with an estimated $140 million in sales. And in Orlando, the Rosen Hotels and Resorts made news with the opening of a new 5,000 square foot glatt kosher kitchen that will greatly improve the kosher options for vacationers and organizations holding events there. In a major development for glatt kosher beef, PM Beef Holdings which had served the kosher meat industry for more than three decades closed. The Center for Kosher Culinary Arts has closed its professional training programs. The Brooklyn Center, which trained more than 500 people during the program’s eight years of operation, will continue to offer cooking classes to the public.

In new and trendy, Probiotics was introduced to the kosher market by Norman’s through its line of Probiotic Greek Yogurt. Jacks’s Gourmet BBQ Pulled Beef Brisket was named the Best New Product in Kosherfest. There were 125 products entered in 17 categories in the competition. In its 27th year, Kosherfest 2015 was a huge success with more than 90 new exhibits and a record 6,500 participants from nearly 18 countries and 30 states. On-line kosher continued to expand with E-Z Kosher and Koshwhere.


PEOPLE WE LOST: Mendel Weinstock, a pioneer in glatt kosher meat including the Meal Mart takeout stores, Shiya Hollander, the brilliant architect of the growth of Alle Processing, Walter Scheib, a former White House chef under Presidents Clinton and Bush who had a passion for upgrading kosher cuisine in his subsequent private business and Chef Paul Prudhomme who was the face of Magic Seasoning and appeared in many kosher food shows.