With Kosherfest 2009 rocking the Meadowlands next week, we turned to Paul Bensabat, co-owner of TMCI Holdings (along with Alain Bankier and a financial partner), for insight into the kosher industry. You may not have heard of this little-known holding company, but you know its brands: Manischewitz, Rokeach, Mishpacha, Season, Guiltless Gourmet, Goodman, Cohen's and Ratner's, to name a few. We got the inside scoop on the future of these Jewish culinary standbys and the philosophy of the company behind them.
Personal Importance of Owning a Kosher Company
"As a Jewish person you could be doing any business, but there is nothing you can relate to as well as to Jewish food. You grow up with it; it is part of your heritage. So when you are involved in a business that does kosher food the way we do, by definition you have a special bond with your own product. And there is nothing better than being able to relate to your own product and making it a successful one."
"We’ve tried to put together a really unique portfolio of some of the greatest kosher brands in North America, all with a tremendous history. The Manichewitz brand is 121 years old, Rokeach was born in 1870, Cohen's is 50-plus years old, and Ratner's as well. That’s an unparalleled amount of history." "The objective is to continue growing these lines and better serving the Jewish consumer — and even the non-Jewish consumer. Kosher has gained much broader appeal than just to the Jewish consumer. The non-Jewish consumers look at kosher as being an additional seal of quality." "[We are doing this] by coming up with a lot of new varieties and diversification, which were not done in the past few years because the company was too busy with major industrial moves and change of ownership. The new ownership is one that really wants to expand into new territories and not only maintain its status as No. 1 in kosher food manufacturing, but also expand into a much more creative and aggressive manufacturer and marketer."
"I think the trend is clearly towards modernization, if I may call it that way, of traditional kosher food. You see a lot of Jewish families who are not necessarily extremely observant wanting to have access to products that are kosher, but not just the traditional products. And some traditional products — take gefilte fish for example — are older products that present a lot of opportunities to be modernized. We are constantly working on coming up with new ideas and products that are in line with today’s consumer expectations, new trends and innovative packaging."
"An example is the recent major launch of three Manischewitz broths: chicken broth, beef broth and a reduced sodium chicken broth. One of the major initiatives our company has been focusing on is to push the "All Natural" label throughout our company because our customers have been demanding it from us. ... By the way, there never was a kosher natural broth brought into the market place. This is the first one."
"There are some very successful super kosher Dunkin' Donuts or kosher Subways in cities like Baltimore and Brooklyn. Those are just another way of adapting the kosher evolution to those icons of modern distribution. Very often people say that the traditional kosher restaurants are suffering. Yeah, because the kosher world is also living through the modern fast-food business, and, indeed, it's very practical to eat fast when you're in a hurry and you know it's perfectly kosher."
"The Man-O-Manischewitz cook-off contest has been widely successful in the past three years and it is continuing to grow bigger every year. We are expecting more than 1,000 contestants to come in this year and submit their recipes. We will have five of them selected to compete [at the JCC in Manhattan] in front of a whole panel of journalists, food editors and Jacques Pépin, one of America's best-known chefs. All of the recipes are collected and published and it helps our consumers create at home the same recipes with our products. This year the broth is going to be a required ingredient in each submitted recipe."
"Being Jewish is something very special, regardless of how religious you are. I am not Orthodox, but I am extremely proud of being Jewish and I have extremely strong feelings about being part of the community. My dad inspired me about the importance of being Jewish from the very beginning of my existence. I grew up in Casablanca in Morocco, so being a Jew in America I certainly appreciate the freedom and pride of being Jewish without fear of consequence. Being Jewish is not just respecting the religion but also having the privilege of being part of The Chosen People, of an amazing community with a special bond and pact with God. We are unique and one-of-a kind and should always be proud to be Jewish."
Jewish American Heritage Month
"Our latest initiative that we are deeply involved with is Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM), which is the month of May. It has officially been created by a congressional resolution and a presidential proclamation, and its objective is to help America understand the significant accomplishments that Jews have been able to contribute to this country for the past 350 years. This initiative is now finally getting a lot more visibility and a lot more traction in part thanks to the strong support of the private sector, and Manischewitz is certainly doing its share."