Supermarkets across the globe know just the right moment to signal the Jewish consumer’s Passover panic. About six weeks before the holiday begins, the conspicuous Passover products display reminders appear–endless boxes of matzah, jars upon jars of gefilte fish, and bottles of grape juice, throwing the calmest of consumers into a flurry of mental ruminations. “How can I possibly get the house cleaned in time?” “No matter how many lists I make, I know I’m going to forget something!” One thing kosher consumers need never worry about again is whether there will be enough variety in their Passover menus to keep everyone happy.
With the proliferation of innovative Passover products in today’s market, we can safely wave goodbye to the days of subsisting on matzah, gefilte fish, potatoes, potatoes and more potatoes. “In the past five to eight years, the Passover category has absolutely exploded,” says Yaakov Yarmove, Corporate Category Manager for Ethnic and Specialty Foods for Albertson’s, a national supermarket chain. “Modern-day food technology has made it possible to come up with items that are dramatically changing the landscape of Passover.” He says he’s heard customers exclaiming incredulously, “I cannot believe they have this for Passover! It’s sacrilegious! I’ll take eight of them.”
Following the Market Trends
While maintaining their reliance on OU’s highest standards of kashrut and quality, the major manufacturers of Passover products have kept a close ear on the latest food technology methods and food industry trends. “For us on the business end, we are taking care of our customers’ needs,” says Mr. Yarmove. “My enjoyment is to give the customer a full, exciting shopping experience. From August on, I’m searching out the newest innovative Passover items.” According to David Rossi, Vice President of Marketing at Manischewitz, a company long synonymous with OU certified Passover products, the company has been taking a careful look at the grocery shelves during the rest of the year and thinking of what Manischewitz can do to offer the same quality of taste within the parameters of Passover eating. “We take matzah-based Passover products and help consumers enjoy great tasting cakes, cookies, and muffins, items they don’t have to do without on the holiday,” says Mr. Rossi. “People are looking to add flavor to Passover products that they’ve traditionally purchased.” To meet that demand, Manischewitz has come out with a full line of flavored horseradish sauces, including lemon and wasabi, to complement not only gefilte fish, but also sandwiches and meat products. ”We manufacture year-round food products as well as our Passover products. We try to ‘marry’ the two.” In keeping with its goal to wed traditional with trendy, Manischewitz, one of the largest macaroon producers in the country, decided to position this traditional Passover taste pleaser as a breakfast item. “People run out of making something interesting for breakfast,” says Mr. Rossi. “This year, we’ve come up with such breakfast-related flavors as maple pecan and cinnamon raisin.” Last Passover, Manischewitz introduced a sugar-free macaroon and added “cappuccino chip” to their flavors. Elie Rosenfeld, Chief Operating Officer of Joseph Jacob Organization, a company that has marketed Manischewitz products for 40 years says, “They ask, ‘How can we take the traditional macaroon and turn it into something more contemporary and more widely appealing?’” Keeping things tasty throughout the holiday remains a primary goal. ”Dry rub seasonings and spices are very big in poultry, beef, and fish cooking,” says Mayer Gold, Grocery Manager at Supersol, a full service kosher supermarket in Queens. “Manischewitz introduced them this year to its Passover line of seasoning products.” Mr. Gold expects the condiments shelves to be emptied quickly. “Since mustard is kitniyot*, our ‘mustard flavor’ product is very popular. That along with the ketchup and sauces goes really fast.”
Meeting the Customer’s Needs
Kedem, another major manufacturer of OU-certified Passover products, has jumped on the merge-traditional-with-trendy shopping wagon. To the delight of kosher consumers, Kedem took two holiday fundamentals – grape juice and weight-gain worry – while capitalizing on the current concern for carb content, and created Kedem Light Grape Juice. “It actually contains two-thirds less calories and two thirds less carbohydrates than regular grape juice,” says Eitan Segal, Director of Public Relations at the company. Kedem’s huge success on its new line of matzah, Yehuda Spelt Matzah, for those sensitive to wheat, proves there are customer needs out there just waiting to be addressed.
“Catering to consumers with special needs is crucial,” says Mr. Yarmove, of Albertson’s. “Osem has come out with light matzah, as well as rye matzah. We are also seeing a strong movement towards the purchase of hand shmurah matzot (non–machine made matzah, where a Jewish employee oversees the entire matzah production, from the growth of the wheat grains through the baking process—usually purchased by the observant Jewish population). Even the traditional market is buying a lot of them for the reason that they want to capture the authenticity of the Seder, the kind of matzah that was used several thousands of years ago. I commend the companies for meeting the growing demand.”
Every supermarket supplier will readily attest that next in line after matzah, horseradish, gefilte fish, and grape juice, comes the traditional requirement for really good nosh. “It’s barely January and I already received my Passover bakery list from the manufacturers,” reports Aaron Rothberg, Manager of the Supersol store in Manhattan. Chocolate, marshmallows, potato chips, potato sticks, gum, soda, ice cream, and ices barely touch the store shelves before they’re swept up.
Mayer Gold, of Queen’s Supersol, points out that as usual there will be four days of Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of the holiday), which translates to four days of serious noshing for millions of restless little mouths. In the interest of avoiding cookie deprivation and keeping those young palates satisfied, Kedem has come out this year with vanilla and chocolate sandwich cookies for Passover.
“Both Manischewitz and Kedem now offer Passover marshmallows with OU certification,” reports Mr. Rosenfeld. “I give them a lot of credit for making that choice. The main line brands made the determination that we can now sell marshmallows that anybody can eat. Because they made the commitment to make it with the best certification, we can now put the product out there at a very cost-effective point and everyone gets to eat a reliably kosher product.” The manufacturers have not forgotten the nosher inside every adult. “They came out with a sugar-free gum under the OU that people went crazy for last year,” says Mr. Gold of Supersol.
Supporting Israel – Enjoying Quality
“A constant goal that I share with many of my consumers is to support Israel by purchasing Israeli products,” says Mr. Rosenfeld. “This Passover, customers will be able to purchase Yehuda brand gefilte fish from Israel, both sweet and regular. Osem, an Israeli company renowned for its soup mandel, has now come out with a Passover version.” While Mr. Rosenfeld met with vendors in Israel, such as Elite (distributed by Rokeach), he discovered many items that he felt confident would do well in the United States. “They responded and brought some of them in,” he says, “including fancy gift boxes of chocolates and chocolate bars.” Yehuda, Osem, and Elite are all under OU kashrut supervision.
Hundreds of Passover Innovations – Oy gebrokt!
Passover by its very grain-less nature necessitates innovation, especially if one doesn’t eat gebrokts (a Yiddish term referring to mixing matzah with any liquid). “A lot more people want non- gebrokt stuff,” says John Litres, Grocery Manager at Supersol in Lawrence for two generations of Passover shoppers. “Five or six years ago, I didn’t even know what the word meant.” Yaakov Yarmove of Albertson’s reports that one distributor presented him with close to 2,000 Passover products. “It has absolutely taken off – all this variety,” he says. “Geffen came out with a line of noodles, thin noodles, wide noodles, shells; all non-gebrokts. Whoever thought we’d have non gebrokts elbow macaroni for Passover? We now have pizza, frozen cheese ravioli, waffles, potato knishes, blintzes; the list goes on and on and grows with every year.
This year there’s even a kosher ‘beer’ under OU certification, called Old Brick imported English cider. It’s in a beer-like bottle. Their selling point is, ‘The only kosher for Passover adult beverage.’ It’s amazing what’s out there on the market. What drives me is what I can show the customers so they’ll come back next year and say, ‘Wow! You outdid last year!’ and I’m hoping for the same response next year.” Mr. Yarmove says his company has stores in 37 states under the banners of Albertson’s, Acme, Jewel, Shaw’s and Star Markets. “Of our 2,533 stores, we have a Passover presence in approximately 1,700 of them.” The OU certifies their private label products, as well as what they call their Level One full-service kosher stores. “These are similar to kosher marketplaces of which we have a number throughout the country, many of them certified by the OU,” with whom we are proud to be a partner.”
For two decades and running, Mr. Litres, from Lawrence’s Supersol, has witnessed the Passover shopping mad rush. “It begins five days before the holiday. We’re open from 7:00 to 12:00 at night. We have to lock ‘em out.” Yet, each year, the candles are lit, Kiddush wine is poured, and the participants sit ready and grateful as we once again celebrate zman cherutaynu – the time of our freedom. Yaakov Yarmove, of Albertson’s said it best. The foods we eat might change – but the matzah, the wine, and the youngest asking the Four Questions will always remain. No matter if we are eating chicken made with Cajun spices as opposed to traditionally roasted or boiled, or making something with a contemporary flair, the family around the table is what’s most important and that’s really what sells at Passover more than anything else.” Chag kosher v’sameach! Happy Passover!
*Kitniyot: Ashkenazic Jews have accepted the stringency to refrain from eating products such as rice, legumes, corn, millet, and beans to avoid confusion with forbidden grains, since they, at one time, were commonly made into a flour substance for bread; also, because certain types of wheat can get mixed in with these items and it is presumably difficult to differentiate between the wheat and the kitniyot.]