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April 8, 2014 11:05 am

Matzah, Gefilte Fish Maker Manischewitz Sold to Bain Capital

avatar by Joshua Levitt

Rabbi Yaakov Y. Horowitz, Manischewitz's chief rabbi, holding up a piece of regular matzah next to the 25-foot-long world record-holding matzah, at the Manischewitz factory in Newark, NJ, in 2011.

Rabbi Yaakov Y. Horowitz, Manischewitz's chief rabbi, holding up a piece of regular matzah next to the 25-foot-long world record-holding matzah, at the Manischewitz factory in Newark, NJ, in 2011.

The Manischewitz Company, whose matzah, gefilte fish and sweet wine are staples at Passover seders, is expected to be sold on Tuesday to Bain Capital private equity unit Sankaty Advisors, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.

The 126-year-old company was family-owned until 1990, when it was sold to the first of what would now be a succession of five private equity firms.

Founded in 1888, by Rabbi Dov Behr Manischewitz as a small matzah bakery in Cincinnati, Manischewitz grew into a kosher food empire, controlling 80 percent of the United States matzah market by 1990, The Times reported.

In 1990, a grandson of the founders sold to Kohlberg & Company; in 1998, Manischewitz was sold again, and took a new name, the R.A.B. Food Group. In 2008, Harbinger Capital Partners invested, and the company also reclaimed the family name. Now, Sankaty Advisors, which has been a lender to Manischewitz, will own all of the company’s equity.

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The plan for Manischewitz is to push the “quality control” aspect of its kosher certification to expand its market to health conscious shoppers – currently, the company’s split between kosher and general aisles is 60:40, and the company aims to reverse that.

New ideas will include products that happen to be kosher, but could be sold elsewhere in the supermarket, as well as deeper varieties of core products, such as matzah, with new gluten-free alternatives, what Mark Weinsten, the newly appointed interim chief executive of Manischewitz, who is also a senior managing director at strategic PR firm FTI Consulting, said he will be serving to his daughters on Passover next week.

The Times described Weinsten as a “serial C.E.O.” who has run other “small companies in need of fresh thinking.” Weinstein “grew up attending temple and eating Manischewitz products at Passover, but, in a sign of the company’s ambitions to appeal to the mainstream, says he considers himself a Reform Jew.”

Weinstein told The Times: “It’s a pretty powerful certification to be kosher, because it means you are holding your product to a very high standard. Why is that not applicable to people who don’t keep kosher?”

Rabbi Yaakov Y. Horowitz, Manischewitz’s chief rabbi, told The Times: “There is, I believe, a consensus among American consumers that the more supervision the better. There was always a good feeling in American culture about kosher.”

Rabbi Horowitz said he had a “very positive feeling” about the new owners.

“To a good number of American Jews — perhaps a large number of American Jews, those that are unaffiliated and Reform — Manischewitz is the last link to their religion, almost,” the rabbi said. “The last thing that Jews let go, if they’re acculturating to the extreme,” will be the Passover Seder.

Manischewitz was last in the news when it relocated its headquarters to Newark, NJ, from Secaucus, NJ, in 2011 and celebrated by making a 25-foot-long matzah. Cory Booker, the New Jersey Senator who was mayor of Newark at the time, was quoted as saying that the company’s arrival “gives me great naches,” a Yiddish word meaning proud delight.

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