Kosher heaven

Kosherfest introduces us to what lies ahead for all things kosher

By Chandrea Serebro

Those of us keeping kosher in South Africa realise how lucky we are, with so much available and so many options out there for so small a community, relatively speaking. We might think that Glenhazel or Sea Point is a kosher fest. That is until you discover Kosherfest – the annual event held in New Jersey for kosher businesses (it is not open to the public).

“Kosherfest is the world’s largest and most attended kosher-certified products trade show, and there you will find anything and everything that is trending or on the horizon for all things kosher,” says the Kosherfest website: “From chain supermarkets to corner groceries, foodservice establishments to caterers, every kind of kosher decision maker will find opportunity and inspiration at Kosherfest. More than 6 000 industry professionals are expected to attend, and more than 325 exhibitors will feature kosher-certified products and services for the kosher market.” And it certainly lives up to this reputation.

“The venue is simple. The security is everywhere. And the food and drink is plenty. It is like shopping at Louis Vuitton, but for all things kosher food. You want everything, but you can’t afford anything,” (due to our exchange rates) says Richard Pearce of Totally Kosher who has attended Kosherfest for the past two years. After being introduced to Kosherfest in 2017, Richard took his Head Chef, Tony Koen, to Kosherfest last year “to show him the possibilities” – and there they discovered a multitude of things that “we haven’t even begun to work on since our return”.

But the global recession could be felt very tangibly in 2018, which lacked some of the atmosphere and electric vibe that was felt when Richard first went the year before. That said, there was still much to see and many new products, ideas, and people to discover. “The stalls are bright and colourful, and seeing the different Jewish cultures and traditions from all around the world in one room is rather unique. All the companies are so strictly vetted prior to being invited to present, and the hechshers that are represented hail from all around the world.” To get around best, a working knowledge of Yiddish will get you far, as most of the conversations that take place in that busy, eclectic hub bub of kosher are a mix of Hebrew, Yiddish, and a hint of English.

Kosherfest is the closest thing you will come to ascertaining what is in store for kosher consumers in the future. It opens up your eyes and mind to the possibilities of kosher. “Kosherfest holds an annual New Product Competition where hundreds of kosher-certified companies competed for the prestige of introducing the best new product into the kosher marketplace,” says the Kosherfest website. “Last year, the best overall winner was Easy Onion, which saves mums all over the world time in the kitchen sautéing onions. And several trends were seen, from a return to traditional products with a modern twist, such as the Yapchik frozen dinners, to brand new concepts such as the ShabBulb which can be used on the Sabbath.”

“There was also an increase in convenience packaging and ‘on-the-go’ products, as well as ‘clean ingredients’ and organic, gluten-free, and vegan products.” Other winners last year included products such as Gouda, Cheddar, and Guava Paste; Gluten-Free Cheese Sambuzak; Frozen Cheese and Pizza Ravioli; Korean Sauce Gift Set; Israeli Style Shwarma Sausage packaged meat; and more.

“We are going to see many more artisanal products coming out over the next few years,” says Richard, as the market moves back to supporting the small operators, which is good news for bespoke items. “As the price of meat, poultry, and fish rise globally, we have already seen a radical diversion to plant-based proteins,” which also presents new opportunities and doors to new things. But the reality, says Richard, is that things are about to become very expensive, especially for us South Africans, as all the international companies that present at Kosherfest are all dollar, euro, or sterling based and our local ability to produce verses the ability to import has to be looked at closely. “We loved everything about the show and we hope that we will see a lot of the products become available during and before Passover.” Because Kosherfest shows you that if you can dream it, you can do it – kosher.

“We ate, and then ate some more. We met with members and rabbis of the Association of Kashrut Organisations (AKO) and held meetings with caterers and manufacturers to discuss current food trends and how they are able to assist us in South Africa. We are years behind the states and other countries, even though we have one of the largest kosher product ranges in comparison and such a wide availability. The way kosher products currently stocked in supermarkets is also something to look at.” Richard brought back so many ideas, new product brochures, moments, and memories from Kosherfest that he was then able to share with the South African Beth Din’s representatives – who are highly respected abroad, particularly Rabbi Desmond Maizels, Dayan of the Cape Beth Din, who is also a Kosherfest attendee and who showed Richard the ropes. “It is always humbling to be able to walk the show grounds and have some cheese, salmon, and a schnapps with Rabbi Maizels as he introduces us to all and sundry.”

So while us kosher kids back in South Africa celebrate our very own kosher fest on the streets of our Jewish shtetls here, we can sit back comfortably knowing that South Africa is being represented at Kosherfest which is the real deal, keeping us in the know of all things kosher and the exciting things that lie ahead.

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