By Phyllis Koegel Phyllis Koegel is Marketing Director for OU Kosher
Twenty-five years ago, when I was a much younger version of myself, I remember sitting in a staff meeting at Lubicom Marketing Consulting, discussing Menachem Lubinsky’s vision for a kosher food tradeshow. In 1988, I was the Show Coordinator for the International Jewish Life Expo for which Lubicom provided public relations and advertising services. The Jewish Expo took place at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan and was an astounding success, so much so, that the Javits Center had to turn away thousands of people. Out of this success a concept for Kosherfest was born.
In the 1980’s the kosher food industry was still in its infancy. There were probably no more than 10,000 kosher certified products available in supermarkets. Today there are well over 100,000, of which 65 percent bear the OU symbol.
I remember the first Kosherfest in 1989 at the Passenger Ship Terminal in New York City. We had a little over 60 exhibitors and less than a 1,000 attendees. I became Show Director and watched this amazing event grow to over 350 exhibitors from all over the world. There were challenges at first, keeping the exhibitors happy, making sure the correct buyers came to the show. We were a small team who truly believed in Menachem’s vision and the energy and excitement of being part of this growth was very rewarding. When I see Menachem Lubinsky at Kosherfest each year, we reminisce about the show’s humble beginnings, and how as Show Director, I wore many hats to make sure every logistical item ran smoothly. It was challenging, but I loved every second of it.
Today, the kosher food industry is diverse, global and extremely sophisticated. In my role as Marketing Director at OU Kosher, I have the privilege of meeting hundreds of food manufacturers each year seeking entrance to the kosher marketplace. Attending Kosherfest each year since its inception has been an incredible experience for me both professionally and personally. In some ways it’s like a big camp reunion. Each year, the myriad familiar faces and personalities come together for two days at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, NJ to present, sample and buy the best of what the kosher industry has to offer in new and creative ways.
I always tell newbies about the traditional sampling methods at Kosherfest. Start with dairy tastings, move to meat, and end with pareve. You’ve got to walk the aisles slowly and carefully at Kosherfest, as it’s always bustling with thousands of attendees. I’m most proud when I walk the aisles and recognize newly certified OU companies with whom I had the privilege of working to help them gain the coveted OU Kosher symbol. I’m even more gratified when industry buyers recognize the value of these kosher companies, their products and then those products find their way onto our store shelves. From Tootsie Roll to Gatorade to Pereg Gourmet USA, the gratification of certifying both large and small companies is amazing.
Whenever I meet people and I tell them what I do at the OU, they almost always offer suggestions for products they’d like to see become kosher certified. My children refer me to their friends who are always emailing me with suggestions.
Generating over $12 billion dollars a year in sales, kosher food is big business. There is a widespread presence in major cities in the United States of kosher specialty stores which carry a vast array of available items. Also widespread are the mainstream supermarkets with a “kosher section” featuring traditional items, as well as thousands of other items bearing kosher symbols throughout the store aisles. The next time you are in your neighborhood supermarket, just stroll through their “Own Store Brand” aisles and note how many products are OU certified.
This is no surprise. Kosher consumers are extremely valuable customers. Considering our lifestyle, supermarkets recognize that the kosher consumer spends a sizable amount of money at the cash register on a weekly basis. In my presentations to companies I often compare Sabbath dinners to Thanksgiving. Imagine, I tell them, that you had two Thanksgiving meals in your home, as well as invited guests on a weekly basis. That is how much food the average kosher consumer is purchasing weekly.
Without question, the kosher food industry has come a long way. No one could have predicted this amazing success and booming industry. OU Kosher is at the forefront of this amazing and rapid growth of kosher food products. Each year, we see an increase of approximately 15 percent and more than 2,500 new kosher products being introduced to the market from all over the world.
My job takes me to many food shows all over the world, where I meet potential kosher clients, but none compare to Kosherfest. Many have called it the “world’s biggest kiddush”; I call it “the best of what kosher has to offer.” Like a proud mother hen, I’ve watched Kosherfest grow over the years into the world’s largest kosher food industry trade event, proud to have been there at the beginning, still proud to be part of the kosher industry, and representing OU Kosher, the world’s largest and most trusted kosher certification.
That’s called the best of both possible worlds.