Behind the Scenes at Kosherfest
By Menachem Lubinsky, CEO Lubicom
When the doors opened at the Meadowlands Convention Center on Tuesday morning November 13th, it marked the 30th time that I had either produced Kosherfest as part of Lubicom (my marketing consulting agency) or in conjunction with my partners at Diversified Business Communications out of Portland, Maine. I launched the show in 1989 in Giant Stadium Club (the predecessor to Met Life Stadium) with just 69 booths and 500 attendees, a fraction of this year’s 420 booths and 7,000 attendees from 21 countries.
When the show and the kosher food industry really took off in the early 2000s I searched for and found a professional strategic partner who could help take the show to the next level. Diversified Business Communication managed or owned more than 50 shows (today well over 100) and seemed to be the right fit. I have co-produced the show with them ever since 2003 and the results are open for all to see, as Kosherfest today is one of the most professional and well-run food shows in the country. DBC is known for producing huge seafood shows in Boston, Brussels, and Singapore as well as many large shows all over the world.
Christine Salmon, DBC’s Show Manager for Kosherfest, is always excited about Kosherfest: “This show is one of our most important shows and we are very proud to produce that event,” she says. Ms. Salmon recognizes the complexities of managing a kosher food show and is delighted to have Lubicom as a partner. Bob Callahan is the Vice President responsible for 10 different shows but still calls Kosherfest “a show I always look forward to.” He enjoys the buzz and excitement and is likely to stand at the entrance to welcome the exhibitors and visitors.
Of all the shows Diversified owns or manages, this is the only show where they give instructions to Freeman, the show decorator, to construct a Mincha Room and to provide a conference room for shacharis. Starting at about 2 p.m., there are constant minyanim until late in the day.
The minyanim are, of course, only a small part of Christine’s overall management responsibilities. She manages a team that handles different aspects of the show. Harrison Hines assists her with exhibitor relations. Lora Burns and Meghan Strickland handle registration issues. Jessica Eames coordinates the conference schedule which last year included a senior executive at Google.
Planning for Kosherfest 2019 already begins at Kosherfest 2018. There is a huge map of Kosherfest ’19 in the DBC office at the back of the hall. Exhibitors select their booths for next year even on the day before the show when the booths are set up. Throughout the two-day show Ms. Salmon and Mr. Hines are busy crossing off exhibit space as choices are made by the exhibitors. By the time the show ends, as much as 70% of next year’s show will be sold. Once the show is over, the selection process still proceeds but at a much slower pace. Throughout the year, companies from all over the world call to inquire about available space.
Meanwhile, the attendee team is hard at work preparing the marketing program for the next show, almost from the moment this year’s show closes. They closely review the data on who attended the previous show and what category of buyers should be targeted for the coming show. They also update the information on the website, an important vehicle for year-round communications with the food industry.
On my end, I am constantly keeping the pulse on the kosher food industry, much of it part of the information I include on the bi-weekly Koshertoday.com. To me, the show is the showcase of the industry and I would like to believe that Kosherfest in many respects catapulted the astronomical growth of the kosher food industry into what it is today.
Jay Buchsbaum at Kosherfest 2017.
Like every show, Christine and team have their peak periods and even downtime. During the Yomim Tovim, it is relatively quiet, allowing the team to focus on such events as the Flower Show. Once Yom Tov is over, the real work begins. A good deal of the program is prepared over the summer months, coordinated closely between my team at Lubicom and the DBC team. Also requiring advance preparation is the New Product Competition which this year took place in October at the Kosher Culinary Center in Brooklyn. As many as 300 new products are entered into the competition as kosher food purveyors value an award granted to their products in the many categories that are judged. It can often make the difference between success and mediocrity for a product.
By late summer, registration by attendees has begun in earnest. The team of Lora and Meaghan carefully monitor the online registration to assure the integrity of the process. Only legitimate trade people are accepted. Kosherfest is after all an event to facilitate communications (hopefully sales) between manufacturers, distributors and others selling products to retailers, foodservice and other seeking to buy kosher products. They will also be the go-to people on site as by now they are fully familiar with the make-up of the exhibitor and attendee base.
As in every show, the team will deal with multiple issues from set-up to special requests. The ever-changing nature of the industry often requires adjustments. These issues include expanding companies that require more space. There is also a great deal of backroom activity with Freeman, the show decorator. These will include providing refrigerator and freezer space, water, and ice for some of the exhibitors.
For Christine Salmon and team, Kosherfest has become a labor of love. They love the camaraderie, sense of community and “the buzz and excitement” that is unique to Kosherfest. They rely on the kashrus agencies and a special show mashgiach to assure the kashrus integrity of the show.
Even the management of the Meadowlands Convention Center looks forward to Kosherfest. Robin Cuneo, the General Manager of the Convention Center said: “We do lots of events but very proud to host this event for so many years.”