By Mordechai Schmutter
You might think it’s strange that I write about Kosherfest—the official trade show of the kosher food industry—every year, considering that the bulk of my readership is not in the food industry per se. But we’re Jewish. Everyone’s in the food industry.
Also, I’m not actually there to write about Kosherfest, I’m there to write about market trends and new products that you’ll eventually see on your store shelves, except in the case of the company that was actually selling store shelves.
The way Kosherfest works, basically, is that the manufacturers set up booths to display their products and also hand out samples, and retailers try those products and schmooze with them about maybe getting some of it into their stores, restaurants, nursing homes, etc. It’s a good opportunity for everyone to talk business, make deals, shake hands, and share food during flu season, and then we pass that on to you, the consumer. If someone would have a cough-drops booth, they’d make a killing.
There are also presentations, where kosher food experts get together and discuss the kosher food industry in general, as far as trends, hurdles, and such. I don’t know; I’m there for the samples.
But from what I could tell, looking around, one of the biggest hurdles facing the kosher food industry today is that people are taking excessive samples. They’re also having trouble distinguishing what’s a sample and what’s actually part of the display.
This is hard, because for most booths, the displays and the samples are often the same product. For example, a company could set up a display rack of bottles of sauce, and everyone will go, “Hey, samples!” because apparently, the guy right next to the rack handing out individual serving cups of sauce is just there to help you determine whether you should walk off with an entire bottle. But then a supermarket representative comes by, for example, and he’s like, “Well, what would a rack of this look like in a store?”
“Um . . . Empty. See? Like this. You should totally buy our product.”
People are constantly trying to figure out what’s a sample and what’s part of the display. Some are at least asking. But some are not:
“I don’t want to bother them. They’re discussing million-dollar deals, and I’m interrupting to say, ‘Um, am I allowed to take a box of cookies? Or just the single cookies in the plate cut into quarters that you have sitting here that people are noshing on?’”
So the exhibitors are using different strategies to differentiate their items. For example, some companies wrap their entire display stands in plastic wrap, which looks gorgeous and totally makes it worth it for them to pay money for their display. Some just use clear tape to stick the food down well enough to discourage most people. Some companies have a sign that says “Display only,” or as one company wrote, “Not samples YET.” And some companies put empty boxes in the displays, not just to discourage people from taking them, but also as a fun prank to show up the ones who do.
But there are definitely strategies that visitors should use to figure it out. For example, if the items are on a rack behind where the exhibitors are standing, and you have to leave the walkway and climb over them to reach it, it’s probably for display. And if it’s something the company doesn’t actually sell, it might be display. For example, don’t walk off with their table. (“Awesome! I needed one of these for my big family Chanukah party!”) And if the company is displaying something called “The world’s biggest chicken nugget,” which is 3¼ feet long, 2 feet wide, and weighs 51 pounds, it’s probably not a sample.
But on the other hand, if a company went out of its way to put a lot of something in a very accessible spot, it might be samples. For example, one candle company was giving out yahrzeit candles. I think. The candles were in the spot where they usually give out dreidels, which are made of the same wax as candles, apparently. Where were they right after Sandy?
But there was definitely plenty to taste. One company had something called “chicken fries,” which, in the interest of simplifying for explanation with the unfortunate side effect of making the item sound less exciting, is basically chicken nuggets shaped like fish sticks. This is part of an ongoing food-industry conspiracy to blur the lines between chicken and fish, so you don’t know until after you take a bite that you’re going to be fleishig for the next six hours.
There were also some other trends that I noticed:
1. There are a lot of new health and energy drinks. It turns out that drinking just for the sake of not dying isn’t good enough anymore. Your drinks have to add energy. Sure, your food adds energy, but you use up a lot of that chewing. Granola bars is an example that immediately springs to mind. So energy drinks are the wave of the future.
For example, one company was selling a fruit juice with caffeine in it. That’s something you want your kids to drink by accident. There were also new teas, nutritional shakes, and some unsweetened health drinks. Because, basically, if you develop a new drink and it isn’t sweet enough, you have two choices: you can add sugar, or you can decide not to add sugar and just call it a health drink, and then stress the health benefits, such as that it doesn’t have enough sugar. And the second option is cheaper.
2. There was also a trend, among people with Israeli accents, to try to get me to taste straight olive oil.
3. Travel foods are another big trend, for when you’re flying somewhere and you want to be able to bring food, but not enough food that security will stop you from getting on the plane. And they’re microwaveable, so you just need to bring a microwave.
For example, one company had something called “wheat groats salad.” I don’t know what groats are. I imagine they’re some kind of cross between rice and goats. It sounds like a word a teenage girl uses when something doesn’t taste good. “Eew, don’t try the health drink. It’s groats.” Whereas teenage boys use the word “geferlich,” which sounds more like a breakfast cereal.
There were also some innovative products. For example, one company makes something called “pizza spread.” You spread it on sandwiches. It’s orange, and it kind of looks like that stuff you scrape out of the bottom of the pan when you have ziti. That’s probably how they make it. And it actually does taste like pizza, if you’re ever in the mood of just kicking back and eating pizza with a spoon. But it’s just what the world needed: spreadable pizza. You don’t have to waste energy chewing.
Another new food, if your kids are the type who might like pizza, was pizza cones. These are ice-cream cones filled with sauce and cheese, or possibly pizza spread, that you stick in the microwave and watch fall over, because, sadly, cones don’t stand in a microwave. This is why they’re mainly used for things that you don’t put in a microwave, such as ice cream. In fact, cones were designed this way so kids wouldn’t put their ice cream down and forget about it. Or possibly so you won’t give yourself more than one cone’s worth, because you have nowhere to put it down.
Okay, so the pizza cones did come with tiny microwaveable stands. But I bet there was a lot of trial and error before they decided that:
“Lean it against the side of the microwave!”
“Yeah, that’s a great idea! The plate spins, you know.”
“Gentlemen, I’m going to have to ask you to get off the plane.”
Sure, it seems weird, but I bet people said that when they first started making pizza as pies:
“No! Pies are for dessert! What’s next? Pizza on bagels?”
But cones definitely make it more fun. They should probably put other foods in cones to encourage kids to eat them, such as chopped liver, olive oil, and chulent. They’re also convenient. Sometimes in the morning, you’re digging into a big bowl of geferlich, and you’re like, “Wouldn’t this be much better in a cone? That way I could run out the door with it!” Arguably, every booth at the show should have had cones. That way, people would have known what to eat: You eat the things in the cones. The ones rolling off the display tables. v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.
By Mordechai Schmutter