The 55th annual Fancy Food and Confectionary Show came to NYC in the past week, with its over 24,000 attendees and over 1,000 vendors of upscale candies and foodstuffs. And one thing was noticeable, at least to me: the widespread use of kosher hekshers on new products. One could get the idea that Jewish kosher consumers make up the majority of North American consumers. But they donâ€™t.
Nevertheless, whatever the perception among food producers that a kosher certification provides, it is a boon for Jewish consumers with disposable incomes.
On the general side of the biz, you can get an idea of what is new from the award winners. 1,197 products were nominated and tasted for this yearâ€™s gold awards. It seemed as if every new line extension was made from either blood oranges or sea salt. You could not shake an artisinal bottle of balsamic vinegar without hitting a sea salt product. Among the winners (not necessarily kosher) were a Caramel Sea Salt Brownie for best Baked Good; Chevre Truffle Tremor for best Cheese; Argo Fine Foodsâ€™ Tzatziki for best Appetizer, Salsa, or Dip; a Blood Orange Marmalade for best Classic product; Fresh Blood Orange Juice for best Cold Beverage; a Pink Grapefruit Super Spiral for best Dessert; Yuzo Citrus Tea for best Hot Beverage; Raspberry William preserves with honey for best jam, and Sukhiâ€™s Samosa with Chutney for best Frozen Savory. By the way, there was some uncanny creativity. What do you do as a jelly bean company when you lose snack share, or share of mouth, to popcorn? Jelly Belly decided to introduce a popcorn-flavored jelly bean.
That said, on the kosher front, what was new?
The Hummus wars
Well, it isnâ€™t really a war or even a skirmish. With hummus sales of over $200 million in the USA, there is shelf space for all brands so far. Sabra is the market leader with a reported 27 percent share. Fifty percent of Sabra was purchased by Pepsi for $45 million. In August 2009, the competing Tribe brand will expand the category with its Pizza flavored hummus. It will join Tribeâ€™s new horseradish and chipotle flavors. Tribe, which started making hummus in 1994, and expected to have $32 million in revenue in 2008, was acquired for $57 million last year by Tel Avivâ€™s Osem, which is a division of Nestle. But you want to know a secret? I actually like the Sonny & Joeâ€™s brand better. Sonny & Joeâ€™s is a line of hummus from Brooklyn-based Flaumâ€™s (doesnâ€™t “Sonny” sound better than â€œFlaum’s?â€). Flaum’s dates back to 1918, when two brothers, Joe and Sonny, started their stores with the blessing of the Stitchiner Rebbe. Under each lid label of Sonny & Joeâ€™s is a story about an aspect of Brooklyn. Among their flavors are Galilee style, Buffalo Hummus, and Garlic Addiction.
New for 2009 is Shibolim brand whole wheat pretzels dipped in dark chocolate, along with the chocolate coated whole grain rice crisps. Also Kedemâ€™s Beigel and Beigel Nish Nosh snack was featured on Rachael Rayâ€™s TV show as the Snack of the Day.
One of the largest purveyors of organic foods, Eden will distribute a line of kosher canned chilis made from beans and barley, beans and quinoa, beans and spelt, and beans and kamut.
Speaking of kashrut, we should at least mention the symbols… Several Heksher agencies had booths at the show this year, including the Orthodox Union (O-U), which has the largest market share among the certifiers. The O-U is growing internationally quickly, and has about 100 rabbis just for Chinese manufacturing plants, where so much of American foods and ingredients are coming from. I asked representatives of some other heksher symbols where they ranked compared to the O-U. Remarkably, all those I asked said they were a close second. Umm… Okay.
They canâ€™t all be second, but I guess it depends on how you define the words rank and share.. and 2nd. I sort of had a burning desire (or maybe it was just the result of having just drunk a sample of African ginger juice to ask the O-U if any food companies were concerned that the monies they pay to the Orthodox Union might get spent on programs that allegedly were trying to limit the New York Stateâ€™s legislature from increasing the statute of limitations for civil suits by former yeshiva students against teachers that are accused of sexual abuse. But why cause problems at a food show when every moment wasted in conversation is a moment that can be spent sampling and sampling food and candies?
Say cheese (and butter, and yogurt)
5 Spoke is like a scene out of The Frisco Kid: a rabbi runs up to some Amish cheese makers. 5 Spoke Creamery was providing samples of their grass-fed raw milk kosher cheeses. Their Kof-K certified artisanal cheeses are the only kosher cheeses on the menus of some of Manhattanâ€™s most celebrated and most expensive restaurants. Alan Glustoff started the creamery in 2005 after many years as a dairy technologist (he helped develop Jell-O pudding pops – something I though Bill Cosby invented). Maintaining kashrus in his personal life, he decided to make the effort to make his cheeses kosher, a difficult process in the dairy business.
On the butter front, Wuthrich butter is kosher. The European style butter comes from Wisconsin and is made by the Wuethrich family. With its low moisture point, it does not burn until it reaches a much higher temperature than average household butters. For those of you who order in and donâ€™t cook, that means you can saute better with this type of creamy butter.
Not since kibbutz breakfasts have I had a yogurt as creamy and kosher as a new line from Emmi, a Swiss dairy brand. The O-U product will add three new flavors for 2009: coffee, vanilla, and pomegranate/blueberry.