Mark it with a “k”

Israeli Minister of Industry and Trade Ehud Olmert greets the Osem mascot inside the Osem Pavilion at the Kosherfest Show in New York. The kosher food market in the United States is continuously expanding, and Israeli food is leading the …

Israeli Minister of Industry and Trade Ehud Olmert greets the Osem mascot inside the Osem Pavilion at the Kosherfest Show in New York. The kosher food market in the United States is continuously expanding, and Israeli food is leading the way. Last week at the 15th annual Kosherfest in New York City, over 40 Israeli food and wine companies displayed their wares and aromatic fare.

The Kosherfest at the Jacob Javitz Convention Center is the largest expo of kosher foods in the world. This year some 15,000 participants from the food industry attended the two day event, with 1,000 new kosher products from all over the world on display. 150 new exhibitions and 450 booths from companies in 30 countries offered visitors an epicurean’s tour of the world of kosher foods which has gone far beyond gefilte fish and matzah balls.

“Its more that just press and fress,” says Menachem Lubinsky, president of Integrated Marketing Communications and founder of the Kosherfest Food Fair. “Millions of dollars worth of business take place during the two days of events.”

Kosher food is not only for Orthodox Jews any more. There is growing interest in kosher products among Conservative and Reform Jews, as well as among Muslims and vegetarians, who buy kosher food because they perceive it to be better and healthier.

The Israel national pavilion was among the largest at Kosherfest with the attendance of some 40 food and wine companies. Industry giants like Elite and Osem had their own booths at the fair because they already have distributors in the United States. Smaller companies like Macabim Snack Foods, Nina Bakers and Pereg Spices were part of the Israeli Export Institute exhibition. Several Israeli wineries were represented as well both inside the pavilion and as independent exhibitors.

The Israel Export Institute, which helps sponsor the smaller companies who participated in Kosherfest, reports that food exports to the United States totaled 57 million dollars in the first nine months of the year. Dafna Sternfield, Institute Food Division Manager, notes that this is a 24 percent increase over last year when total exports reached $64 million.

The increase can be explained in part by the Fine Food from Israel campaign, spearheaded by the Institute. Zohar Peri, Israel’s economic consul to North America hit a responsive chord with kosher consumers as a means of supporting Israel’s struggling food industry, hard hit by the unrest in the Middle East. More aggressive marketing by such companies as Osem USA has also helped the steady rise of exports since 2001.

One Israeli company which displayed it products at Kosherfest was Tara Dairies, which according to the Israeli business paper Globes, is negotiating to sell its products to a US food chain. Tara Dairies plans to expand its exports by 50% from its current $1 million to $1.5 million in 2004

Tara Dairies institutional marketing and export manager Ofer Netanel said, “Tara is working to expand its business in Israel and overseas, despite the limitations on dairy exports, due to their short shelf life and the high cost of air cargo. We discovered an increasing demand in the US market, especially the Jewish community, wants ever more Tara’s dairy delicacies, which carry a glatt kosher certificate. To meet this high demand, we’re trying to expand our operations in North America and Europe.”

At Kosherfest, Trade Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presented awards to ten American importers who significantly increased their purchases of Israeli products in the last year. They included DH and S Israeli imports, Ahava Foods, G and R Produce, Kedem Royale Wines, Lieber Kosher Foods, Galil Imports, Arthur Shuman, Osem USA, Yarden Inc and Rokeach.

“I think you will agree there is no food in the world like kosher food,” Olmert said at Kosherfest’s awards ceremony Tuesday night.

US Secretary of Agriculture Anne Veneman, who toured the fair and earlier in the day, said she hoped to export greater amounts of US-made kosher products to Israel, as well.

While welcoming the idea, Olmert said that Israel was working hard to maximize traffic in the other direction.

“Kosher food is great, but kosher food from Israel is always more kosher and tastier than kosher food from any other place,” he said. “It’s kosher with the flavor of the Holy Land.”