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April 14, 2019 4:22 am

With New Foods and More, Passover Evolves Every Year

avatar by Faygie Levy Holt / JNS.org

The Israel Project and the World Jewish Congress host a pre-Passover seder for foreign diplomats in Israel. Photo: Avishai Zigman.

JNS.orgWhen food-industry insiders entered the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, New Jersey for the annual Kosherfest trade show back in November, you could almost understand why their thoughts were on Passover.

Displays of matzah boxes and even samples of different brands of the Passover mainstay were all over the exhibit hall. Plus, there was “Sam the Dancing Matzo Man” — a 6-foot-tall mannequin that greeted attendees as they entered the convention hall. (More on Sam to follow.)

Now in its 30th year, the two-day Kosherfest conference is the destination for supermarket buyers, chefs, hoteliers, food bloggers, and manufacturers to showcase, sample, and order the hottest kosher foods on the market. While many vendors are local, the festival features an international section with companies from Australia, the Czech Republic, Sri Lanka, and, of course, Israel.

Among those in attendance was Danielle Simpson, who works for Big Y Foods, a chain of supermarkets in Massachusetts and Connecticut. She noted that there’s been a growing demand in some of the chains’ outlets for more kosher food, and she was searching for some new bakery items. (Another colleague was there checking out items for the deli section.)

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“I didn’t realize everything that was available,” Simpson said, as she rushed from one booth to the next.

One bakery item that may have caught her eyes was the “Modena” cookie, which features a layer of chocolate between two cookies, from kosher-food giant Manischewitz.

“Last year I walked the aisles of the stores, and I was seeing more and more baked goods for Passover,” said Shani Seidman, director of marketing at Manischewitz. “When we thought about expanding our bakery line, we wanted to make sure everything tasted amazing. Just because it’s for Passover, doesn’t mean it should taste bad.”

The company will also be offering some new flavors for macaroon fans looking to shake up their post-seder snacking.

Under their “Mishpacha” brand (mishpacha is Hebrew for “family”), the company will be selling a kosher-for-Passover instant cappuccino mix, and no-sugar hot cocoa mix. Also out this year will be almond butter for matzah sandwiches.

According to the 2017 “Kosher Food Market” survey by marketing firm Lubicom, which puts on Kosherfest, consumers are expected to shell out some $1.5 billion dollars for items for the eight-day holiday.

Among those taking home a share of that pie is Oxygen Imports, whose date-and-orange marinade won the 2018 New Product Award in the Kosher for Passover category.

“Having a winner at Kosherfest means a lot,” said Ron Biala, CEO of Oxygen Imports, whose company took home two awards this year (the second was for olives in a bag). On the wholesale market level, Biala said, the buzz from winning brings in potential buyers at the industry gathering.

Hoping to break into the larger US market was French company Rosinski Matzoth, a family-owned business that has been making matzah in the same factory just outside of Paris since 1929. They still use a baking technique created by company co-founder Albert Moskovitch, according to his granddaughter and company spokeswoman Laura Lallouette.

Rosinki’s matzah has been long-certified as kosher by local rabbis and recently obtained additional certification from the US-based Star-K, a kashrut company whose logo is more recognizable to American consumers. The decision, said Lallouette, who represented the company at the booth with her father, Dominque, was made in response to requests from stateside shoppers who liked the matzah, but couldn’t get it locally.

“It made a difference because we’ve been selling in the United States for two years now. We started distributing in Florida, and we are hoping to spread to New York and California this season,” said Lallouette. “It allowed us to develop our cross-border distribution, expanding our brand outside Europe. It is also a real pride to have our matzah reach tables all over the world.”

She continued, “I wish my grandfather could see it today. Before we were just in Paris, now we’ve grown in France, Europe, Israel, Morocco, and Canada. I’m just so proud.”

But Kosherfest wasn’t just about food. Several vendors showcased novelty items designed for Passover, among them Shulsinger Judaica/Rite Lite, whose line includes 10-plagues nail decals, temporary tattoos, games, and silicone Passover spatulas. New for Passover 2019 are a matzah-themed necktie and returning “Pesocks,” or socks that come in three designs — blue and green with frogs, a brownish/gray pair that says “Lotza Matzah” on it, and another blue sock — this time paired with orange that says “Pass Over” in a Yiddish-looking lettering font.

“Nowadays, socks are a stylish venue for people to express themselves, so what better way to commemorate Pesach?” said Naftoli Versch, a spokesperson for Shulsinger Judaica.

Then there’s a stuffed doll named “Sam the Dancing Matzo Man.” Created by Eli Kowalski of ToyVey Toys, “Sam the Dancing Matzo Man” (he even sings his own jingle) was awarded a 2017 Top Toy of the Year Award from Creative Child magazine.

Thanks to a licensing deal with Streit’s matzah company, Sam’s image will appear on some 1.5 million boxes of matzah this year, and special Streit’s logo-themed dolls are available through a website of the same name.

“It took us a year-and-a-half to get the licensing rights from Streit’s,” said Kowalski, who is also a children’s writer. In fact, he explained, it was precisely while marketing his children’s books that he realized “there isn’t much out there with Jewish content” and set out to create stuffed characters Jewish children can appreciate.

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