What happens when you take an old and historic kosher food company whose products are a household name, and combine it with cutting edge technology, a new product line, and young, motivated, forward-thinking new chief executives? You get the new Manischewitz, now being led by dynamic business partners Paul Bensabat and Alan Bankier.
Manischewitz was founded in 1888 by Rabbi Dov Ber Manischewitz in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was there that he opened a small bakery to make matzos for his friends and family for Passover. The company grew over the years and soon became one of the largest manufacturers of Passover matzo in the world and of kosher food products both for Passover and year round usage. In 1990 the Manischewitz family sold the company to a group led by investment giant Kohlberg and Company and in 2004 the Company changed its name to RAB Food Group. In 2008, RAB Food Group was acquired by new investors led by Co- CEO’s Bensabat and Bankier.
One has to just spend a few moments with Bensabat and Bankier to see that Manischewitz is undergoing some major changes. Their first order of business was to give the company back its identity, and they brought back the Manischewitz name to reinvigorate their business, overturning the company’s previous bland rebranding. Next, they turned Manischewitz into a kosher powerhouse by acquiring many of the quality brands that kosher consumers already know and love, such as Rokeach, Tam Tams, Seasons, Mothers, Goodmans, Mrs. Adlers, Cohen’s, Barneys, Ratners, Horowitz Margareten, Guiltless Gourmet, Mishpacha and Cuisine Innovations.
Finally, in June of 2011 they moved the headquarters from Secuacus, New Jersey to a beautiful new and larger location in Newark. Present at the opening ceremony was Israel’s Ashkenazi chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and Newark mayor, Cory Booker.
Why is Manischewitz super-sizing its operations? Because the already very large kosher market is rapidly expanding! A few quick kosher facts: There are over 11 million kosher consumers in the United States, over half of whom are not Jewish. There are 98,000 kosher-certified products.
Approximately 18,000 (out of 30,000 or so) U.S. supermarkets include some kind of kosher goods section.
Speaking of super-sized and kosher, Manischewitz boasts the world’s largest matzo oven. The oven can produce enough matzo in one year to circle the globe twice and was featured in the Guinness Book for producing the world’s longest matzo: 25 feet, 1 inch long and 41.5 inches wide. Total Passover and year round matzo production in one year is about 180,000 cases or 75,600,000 sheets. The Passover production is 1,000,000 sheets plus special runs of shmura matzos, some 3,500 cases.
All Manischewitz products are under the kosher supervision of the Orthodox Union and adhere to the highest level of adherence to Jewish dietary laws. Twice, prior to Passover, the company converts the matzo oven over to shmura matzo baking. This most sacred of kosher traditions requires “special supervision” of production from the time the wheat is harvested through the time of baking, with extra care that no water can in any way be introduced into the process before the proper time. This extra stringent process requires the supervision of numerous kosher supervisors, or “mashgichim”.
This year’s preparations for Passover included two special events, the Manischewitz Annual Matzo Run and the 6th Annual Man-O-Manischewitz Live Cook-Off.
The Matzo Run which took place on March 19 at the Newark, New Jersey Headquarters launched the final “before Passover” baking run of shmura matzo and was an opportunity to witness the amazing synergy between the baking staff, the OU kosher supervisors and the technology used to create the ideal shmura matzo.
Rabbi Yaacov Horowitz, is the Chief Supervising Rabbi in charge of the Kosher Food Programs and Certification for the Manischewitz Company. In an interview with the Jewish Voice, Rabbi Horowitz explains that “we live in blessed times where people can observe kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) without sacrificing quality, choices and availability. In addition, American “state of mind” has changed, such that many large food producers have turned to kosher products as a way of assuring quality to a population who may not necessarily be Jewish. These trends are giving us more and more palatable products and easy availability throughout the country.
Two Passover products that have become very popular among Jewish and non-Jewish consumers alike are Passover Coca Cola and Gluten Free baked goods, made from ingredients such as Potato Starch. The Passover Coca-Cola is made from pure sugar, like in the old days, rather than the more cost-effective corn syrup, and many feel it has a purer more “original” Coca Cola flavor.
Rabbi Horowitz feels that many Jewish people who had previously considered having a kosher home and did not do so because of the difficulties, will reconsider now that so many excellent products are easily available. When asked whether the plethora of Passover products available takes away a bit of the uniqueness of Passover, the Rabbi responded that there are different feelings about it but he strongly recommends that if possible a family should make one Passover product by themselves to retain the beauty of the tradition of preparing for Passover.
The 6th Annual Man-o-Manischewitz Cook-Off on March 28, took place at the New York’s Upper West Side JCC. The Cook-Off pits aspiring Passover Chefs against each other in a display of their favorite Passover recipes. Thousands of entries were submitted nationwide and five finalists were selected to compete for the $25,000 Grand Prize which includes Maytag Home Appliances and cash. The finalists were each given a mini-kitchen to use replete with stove and work area and all the ingredients necessary to make their recipe. The final products went to a group of judges who were led this year by popular chef and Food Network TV host Claire Robinson. The other judges included Michael Tyrrell of Family Circle Magazine, Vanessa Yurkevich of New York 1 News, Jamie Geller of Kosher Media.com, Hillary Merzbacher of Ladies Home Journal, Allison Baker of Self Magazine and Jennifer Goren of the JCC. Entries included: Crispy Chicken and Cherries by Jennifer Daskevich of Los Angeles; a truly tantalizing Chicken dish utilizing Manischewitz Vegetable Oil, Egg Noodles and Reduced Sodium Chicken Broth; a gnocchi dish by Jacquie Serebrani-Kesner utilizing Manischewitz Soup Nuts, Horseradish and All Natural Vegetable Broth; chicken puff sandwiches by Ronna Farley of Rockville, Maryland, utilizing Manischewitz Potato Starch, Clover Honey and Chicken Broth; Torte Vegatali by Andrew Dorsch of Scotch Plains, NJ, utilizing Manischewitz Potato Latke Mix, Mini Bowtie Noodles and Vegetable Broth; and “Mod” Matzo Ball Soup, by Eric Silberman of Lincolnwood Illinois, utilizing Manischewitz Matzo Ball Mix and all-natural Chicken broth.
The judges than tasted each savory dish followed by an explanation by each chef of their creation. The winner of the 6th Annual Cook-Off, and the $25,000 prize was Eric Silberman of Lincolnwood, Illinois. Eric, a 20 year old pre-med senior at Princeton University, told the JV that he was inspired by his mother and grandmother to cook and became the official matzo ball maker in his house. He experimented for many years in perfecting his matzo ball craft and “gets right into his cooking” whenever he comes home for weekends or school breaks. Upon winning, Eric said that he is “very excited,” and that he “always felt that Manischewitz, even though a national brand, has always also been a personal family brand,” and he is “happy now to be part of that family.”
The competitions chief judge, Claire Robinson, discussed with us her exposure to kosher cooking when she lived in Memphis, where her best friend kept kosher. Claire explains that many people are surprised that one can keep kosher and also have really delicious foods.
“Kosher companies are using better quality ingredients and these days; keeping kosher is a bonus,” Claire says.
This knowledge has helped foster a substantial increase in the number of kosher consumers.
Claire tells the Jewish Voice that she has always used Manischewitz products prior to becoming a Cook-Off judge, and is really looking forward to utilizing more of their products in her work as a chef and host on the Food Channel.