SECAUCUS, N.J. -- Kosher food is moving into the mainstream and converging with other trends in Center Store, like natural, upscale and gourmet.
The number of kosher consumers is increasing, in part because today's health-conscious population perceives kosher as cleaner and healthier, said Menachim Lubinsky, president of Integrated Marketing Services, New York, organizer of Kosherfest '97 here.
Kosher is often easier as well, said Lubinsky. For example, the lactose-intolerant can pick up a grocery item marked "parve" and know it has no dairy in it, while Moslems or vegetarians know kosher groceries don't contain lard.
This perception is expanding kosher's customer base far beyond the Jewish population. "To make our store work, we designed it to cater to everybody," explained Tracy Cross, manager of a kosher store-within-a-store at a new H.E. Butt Grocery Co. unit on Village Center Drive in Austin, Texas. The store debuted this month in that Southwestern city with no more than 10,000 Jews. Nonetheless, the relatively significant Jewish demographic in north-central Austin was the catalyst for creating the kosher section, explained Cross.
He estimated about 50% of customers buying kosher groceries are mainstream shoppers, or those simply interested in good food. Some of them can be characterized as more "health conscious," he said, and others are looking for vegetarian products. The section stocks groceries, refrigerated and frozen goods, and also features a deli and takeout food.
The grocery section includes 24 feet of dry goods, along with several additional freestanding racks. There are 16 feet of frozen food and a 6-foot by 8-foot wine rack, with 15 varieties of kosher wine. H-E-B is headquartered in San Antonio.
Among the products showcased at many of the some 350 booths at Kosherfest '97, held Nov. 12 and 13 at the Meadowlands Convention Center here, were wine, champagne, hummus, soy beverages and 100% juices.
Kosherfest boasted attendees from 46 states and 21 countries, noted Lubinsky. About 5,000 people walked the show each day, including representatives from about 150 supermarkets, said Lubinsky.
More than half of the products in an average U.S. supermarket are kosher certified in some way, Lubinsky noted. Still, many supermarkets are still do not know exactly how to cater to the kosher consumer, Mona Golub Ganz, category manager at Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y., said in a Kosherfest seminar.
According to Golub Ganz, supermarkets can sometimes turn off kosher consumers with mistakes like these: ignoring kosher business outside Passover; displaying bacon, lard and canned hams close to the kosher section; maintaining a display of Hanukkah candles throughout the year; and flaunting a holiday promotion that offers consumers a free ham when they purchase a turkey.
Price Chopper, which has gained a reputation for savvy kosher marketing, has kosher sets ranging from 24 to 48 feet in about 15 of its 94 stores. The chain's most impressive department is in its Colonie, N.Y., unit. Though the unit caters to only 100 observant families, the kosher department was created to meet the needs of the community. The section offers dry groceries, dairy, meat, seafood and frozen.
Private label also needs to be more of a priority, said Golub Ganz. Of Price Chopper's approximately 1,100 private-label stockkeeping units, about 450 are kosher.
"If you provide kosher private label, you've done two things to make kosher consumers happy. You've offered them a quality product at a savings," she said.
Meanwhile, national-brand manufacturers are coming out with more kosher products, said Johanne Choiniere, director of grocery at Provigo, Montreal. National brands account for about 90% of Provigo's kosher sales. Hershey, Welch's, Frito-Lay and M&M/Mars were among the national brand manufacturers that had booths at Kosherfest.
Currently there are about 100 independent, kosher grocery stores across the country, according to Elie Rosenfeld, account executive for Joseph Jacobs Organization, a New York-based advertising and marketing firm that helps national brands target Jewish consumers.
The 20,000-square-foot Marketplace is one such supermarket. The Marketplace opened last month in Teaneck, N.J., which has a population that is 25% to 30% Jewish, and of that number about 60% Orthodox. But in recognition of the mainstreaming trend, the store is not emphasizing it is kosher, said Rosenfeld.
Currently, Pathmark units in Bergenfield and Hackensack and the ShopRite unit in Englewood have impressive kosher departments, in response to neighborhood demographics. The new kosher store is within driving distance of these towns, said Rosenfeld.
ShopRite, part of Wakefern Food Corp., Elizabeth, N.J., has also put a lot of attention into kosher merchandising. This summer, a 60,000-square-foot ShopRite opened in Borough Park, Brooklyn, which has one of the nation's largest Orthodox Jewish communities. Kosher grocery products fill a full aisle, and frozens fill one side of an aisle.
Also, a kosher superstore opened in a Uniondale, N.Y., ShopRite this year for the Passover season. That featured 1,000 grocery products in a 5,000-square-foot unit semi-attached to the main store.