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Passover is Big Business

by Menachem Lubinsky

It wasn't too long ago that a typical Passover display at a major supermarket consisted of Matzoh, macaroons, borscht, horseradish, and candles. That was in an age when most of the kosher food that was consumed was made at a home and when the corner butcher kosher butcher store was the most important stop on the eve of Passover. Today, Passover represents approximately 40% of $4 billion in annual sales of kosher food, an impressive $1.8 billion. Incredibly, there are more than 18,000 food items that are kosher for Passover, from Coca Cola to Dannon Yogurt.

While most of America's 6 million Jews do not keep kosher, they do buy kosher food for Passover. Studies by the Council of Jewish Federations (1990 Jewish Population Study) show that 92% of American Jews participate in at least one seder on Passover, nearly 20% more than fast on Yom Kippur. In addition, many non-Jews are also routinely invited to model seders before the holiday and to family seders on Passover itself. Supermarket executives say that non traditional kosher shoppers also enjoy such Passover staples as Matzoh (particularly flavored Matzoh) and in fact are the first to pick the items off the shelves, weeks before Jews clean out their pantries to stock the Passover foods.

The choice of products would probably turn grandma into an atheist. Potato chips on Passover? Pizza Crust? Coating Crumbs? Gezpacho Soup? Salsa? More than 400 new products for Passover were introduced last November at Kosherfest '98, the annual kosher food trade show which took place at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, NJ. The Jew of the '90's refuses to be deprived even on Passover, and manufacturers are responding. Distributors attribute last year's 15% growth of sales on Passover to the many new products which hit supermarket shelves before Passover.

Most supermarket chains recognize the importance of proper merchandising of kosher foods. According to the Chicago-based Kosher Food Distributors Association, of an estimated 30,000 supermarkets in the U.S., approximately 18,000 carry Matzoh and some items for the holiday. 5,000 supermarkets feature displays of 20 linear feet or more, surprisingly even in areas with few Jews. In the New York area, supermarkets will clear out an entire aisle to stock the Passover products; publish special Passover booklets, distribute haggadahs, produce private label items as kosher for Passover, sponsors special promotions and sales.

There is strong evidence to suggest that the Jewish consumer behaves differently on the eve of Passover. Many will simply walk up and down the Passover aisle and select all ethnic Jewish-sounding names or those that they recognized from their childhood. Brands like Manischewitz, Rokeach, Gold's and Season's tend to do well. After all, grandma taught everybody that it is important to have a kosher and zissen (sweet) Pesach (Passover). The manufacturers valiantly try to generate awareness for their product at this time of the year when they capture the attention of so many Jews, in the hope that there might be some residual benefits beyond the holiday.

Passover, in many supermarkets, goes well beyond the 8 days when Jews keep chametz (unleavened bread) out of their homes. Major chains open their Passover aisles 6 weeks before the holiday, and for good reason. Some Jews shop early, others buy gift items for the holiday of Purim which takes place one month prior to Passover. Non-Jews like many of the products and some shoppers like the Passover items so much that they already eat them before Passover.

A growing trend in the kosher market in general are home replacement meals and Passover is no exception. You can buy the frozen dinners even for this holiday. Similarly, many younger Jewish housewives enjoy preparing their own foods. They are buying frozen gefilte fish loaves and adding some spices so that it looks like the fish grandma used to make. They are baking brownies and preparing a variety of meats and poultry. The supermarket of the '90's is prepared for them.

A good deal of the action takes place in the many kosher super stores in the Metropolitan area. Some set up special Passover stores and really do have an edge over the supermarkets because they tend to stock so many more items. They will typically carry all of the various products from such kosher companies as Gefen, Season's, Hadar, Rokeach, and Manischewitz. They will also have a broad assortment of Matzoh, including imports from Israel and Europe. Of course, refrigerator and freezer shelves also have an abundance of Passover products.

The kosher market on Passover is not reserved for retail. Food service represents nearly a third of all sales for the holiday. It is no secret that large numbers of Jews enjoy special Passover programs at resorts around the world. Hotels that would never consider Kosher year-round convert their kitchens for Passover. And then there are, of course, hospitals, nursing homes, airlines, independent living facilities and restaurants that consume a significant amount of product for Passover.

Passover is the holiday which celebrates freedom. In 1999, consumers will have much more to celebrate, the freedom to choose from a record number of 18,000 products. Happy choosing.

Menachem Lubinsky is president of Integrated Marketing Communications in Manhattan, a full service marketing firm which is also the nation's preeminent marketing firm for the kosher food industry. In addition to representing a large number of kosher food clients, IMC produces Kosherfest, the annual trade show for the kosher food industry (400 exhibitors and 12,000 visitors), publishes Kosher Today, the industry's monthly trade paper (15,000 circulation) and hosts Kosherfest-On-Line (www.kosherfest.com) which recorded nearly 1 million hits in 1998.


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