After 123 Years, Manischewitz Creates Kosher Food for Gentiles


manischewitzAndrew Adam Newman reports in the New York Times: In recent years, Jews who keep kosher rejoiced when popular foods that had been off-limits gained kosher certification, from Oreo cookies in 1997 to the Tootsie Roll in 2009.

According to Mintel, the market research firm, the growth in sales of kosher products – up 41 percent from 2003 to 2010 and projected to grow an additional 23 percent by 2013 – owes less to the popularity of keeping kosher or to new products than to existing products becoming certified.

Now, as mainstream brands increasingly pitch to kosher consumers, Manischewitz, the 123-year-old kosher brand, is doing the opposite: creating kosher products that also appeal to gentiles.

While Manischewitz items like matzo are popular Passover fare stocked in a supermarket’s kosher sections, new products have no such association.

“Instead of taking the older products we have out of the kosher aisle and forcing them into the main aisle, we’re creating new products that have a place in the main aisle,” said Alain Bankier, who along with Paul Bensabat became co-chief executive of the company in 2008.

A new line of broths, for example, is being shelved in many supermarkets not with most Manischewitz items but rather in the soup aisle alongside such popular mainstream broths as Swanson and College Inn (Campbell Soup Company and Del Monte Foods brands). A new line of Manischewitz gravies also will be stocked with other mainstream brands. Manischewitz ads traditionally have emphasized Judaism, showing yarmulke-wearing celebrants at, say, a Seder. But new ads, by Joseph Jacobs Advertising in New York, the Manischewitz agency for more than three decades, take a decidedly more secular approach.

“Don’t miss the boat,” says a print ad for beef gravy, which shows it being poured from a sauce boat onto mashed potatoes – no shofar or Star of David in sight.

New ads “make little if any reference to any Jewish holiday,” said Elie Rosenfeld, chief executive of Joseph Jacobs. “There’s a tagline we use, ‘Bringing families to the table since 1888,’ and we want to be part of that family with you whether it’s Rosh Hashana, Hanukkah or Easter.”

Although Manischewitz typically advertises only in Jewish publications, ads for the broths and gravies will be in circulars in Sunday papers, including The Washington Post and The Star-Ledger in Newark.

In all, the company reportedly will spend more than $10 million on advertising and marketing in 2012, but declined to be more specific.

The 2012 Man-o-Manischewitz Cook-Off, now in its sixth year, also aims to appeal to a general audience. (“Man-o-Manischewitz” was first popularized by Sammy Davis Jr. in ads in the 1960s for Manischewitz wine, a separate entity from the food company owned by Constellation Brands through a licensing agreement.)

The cooking contest is being advertised on general-interest cooking sites like and, and Claire Robinson, host of “Food Network Challenge,” is serving as the judge.

While the contest requires entrants to use both a broth and another ingredient by Manischewitz, and to abide by kosher guidelines, it encourages recipes from Japanese, Italian and Greek cuisines.

Four finalists for the contest, which closes on Jan. 15, will participate in a live cook-off in Manhattan on March 28, with the winner receiving a prize valued at $25,000 that includes Maytag appliances and $7,000.

In 2010, Sarah Freedman-Izquierdo of Miami Beach won with her recipe for Mandarin Dumpling Soup, besting other finalists unlikely to be encountered in a traditional Jewish deli, including rosemary duck cassoulet.

Traditional Passover products like matzo, gefilte fish and macaroons are among the biggest sellers for Manischewitz, and as recently as a decade ago sales tied to the holiday accounted for as much as 80 percent of annual revenues, according to the company.

“Our goal was to really no longer make Manischewitz the Passover brand, to turn the company around to more of a year-round market,” said Mr. Bensabat, the co-chief executive.

Today, Passover sales account for about 40 percent of annual revenues, he said, adding that it reflects “a marketing revolution at the Manischewitz Company over the last three years.”

Along with appealing to mainstream consumers, the company has focused on sprucing up its existing lines with package redesigns that assert more health claims, and new products to appeal to a younger generation of kosher shoppers.

Manischewitz, which along with its flagship brand owns other kosher brands including Guiltless Gourmet, Rokeach, and Mrs. Adler’s, is in the midst of releasing about 70 products among those brands into 2012, Mr. Bensabat said.

While the company has a tradition of products like borscht and gefilte fish, traditional fare for Ashkenazi, or Eastern European, Jews, Mr. Bensabat and Mr. Bankier both are Sephardic Jews from Casablanca, Morocco, and grew up eating Mediterranean kosher dishes.

This year under its Season brand, the company introduced Moroccan fish meat balls, which unlike more mild gefilte fish has bolder spices including cumin. This month, the Manischewitz brand introduced Mediterranean matzos and gefilte fish, both including rosemary, oregano and olive oil.

Other products the company hopes will appeal to more modern sensibilities include organic matzos, white chocolate-covered egg matzos, gluten-free cake mixes and a red velvet cake mix.

“We want to be able to not only retain our older consumers, but also attract younger new consumers,” said Mr. Bensabat. “What does Manischewitz stand for?” Mr. Bensabat asked rhetorically.

“Many years ago it started as Eastern European, Ashkenazi cooking, but Manischewitz is no longer just that. It’s also anything good that is kosher.”

{NY Times/ Newscenter}


  1. I commend Manischewitz for their brilliant marketing strategy. In these tough economic times, companies need to reach all consumers if they want to be profitable and competitive. What better way to do that than to produce delicious (hopefully) products that will attract the attention of all shoppers, placing Manischewitz products on the same shelf with like products.