November 22, 2010

Last of Family Owned Kosher Distributors Adapts to Market Changes

Brooklyn, NY…Moshe Semel, one of a handful of remaining family-owned kosher food distributors, is still the man to see at the annual Kosherfest for many manufacturers looking for distribution. After more than three decades at the helm of Quality Foods, Semel shows no signs of slowing down even as a second generation of Semels and Soffers (children of his late partner Eli Soffer) are now part of the company. Gitel Liebler, Mr. Semel’s daughter, marvels at her father’s tenacity to stay the course in a business that has become “cut-throat” and dependant on extremely low margins. Kosher distribution has come a long way from the days when family owned distributors anchored their businesses as regional distributors for Manischewitz, Rokeach or Streit’s. While many of those distributors have long since disappeared from the scene or were swallowed up by large specialty food distributors, Semel and his family is still a leading kosher food distributor. To satisfy larger clients, particularly supermarkets, distributors of certain category foods expanded their offerings to what one competing distributor called “everything goes.” Distribution was no longer for a small breed of expert distributors. As one retailer put it: “Anyone with a truck became a kosher distributor.”

With more than 3400 SKU’s, Quality covers most of the Metro New York area, Pennsylvania and even markets abroad. The distributor has successfully made the transition from the traditional kosher foods of the 1970’s to today’s technologically enhanced products such as items that have an extended shelf life. Mrs. Liebler says that the distributor is very much on top of innovation, even stocking ingredients that are included in popular kosher cookbooks or being the first ones to distribute a new OU certified Tootsie Roll. Quality has also been extremely successful in marketing and distributing foods under such well-known labels as Noam, Chopsie’s, Ungar’s, and Snack Delite to name but a few. Industry sources speak of Semel as “one of the nicest guys in the industry,” and someone who helped many aspiring kosher food entrepreneurs with “credit terms he never should have offered.” After all, Semel was himself at one time a retailer with a popular Boro Park store that he owned together with his late Brother. For Liebler, a defining moment in Semel’s impressive career was a recent company meeting at which Mr. Semel finally found a few moments to attend. “There were all the family members and key salesman in one room with my father sitting at the head.”