By Andrea Vasquez
Newark-based Manischewitz produces more processed kosher foods than any other company in the nation and has been a New Jersey staple since 1932 when the Ohio company opened a plant in New Jersey, which has a large Jewish population — in fact, the second largest in the country.
Today, 5.7 percent of New Jersey’s population is Jewish and in New York it’s 8.4 percent — four times the national rate.
In 1940, Manischewitz moved beyond matzo and made its first tam tam cracker. And today the company’s new owners continue to broaden their scope.
“There are segments within kosher that are growing, there are segments that are stable and there are some segments that are declining. But the opportunity for us is clearly expanding and we want to seize that,” said Mark Weinsten.
The research firm Packaged Facts reports the U.S. kosher market grew by a third in just five years and forecasted it’d reach $260 billion last year.
Weinsten took the helm about a month ago, when a division of Bain Capital bought the company. He arrived just before Passover, the busiest season, but he’s looking to make kosher the new food trend of choice like organic or gluten-free.
“The ingredients have to be checked and certified to make sure they’re from the right sources and they have the right kind of documentation to support it. And our processes have to be kosher, which means we have to treat those ingredients in specific ways,” explained Randall Copeland.
Manischewitz does roughly half of all of its business during the Passover season, but year round the plant is producing any number of its hundreds of products.
Forty percent of Manischewitz consumers are not Jewish and don’t keep kosher. In fact, many consumers reported buying kosher for “food quality” above other reasons like “general healthfulness,” “food safety” and religious laws.
“We find that, while we’re making it to kosher standards, a lot of our food is being sold in other sections of the store and to other consumers,” Copeland said.
As these tam tams move down the line, workers from around the world — representing numerous religions — are checking, mixing, cleaning and packaging.
“I’m Southern Baptist, married to a Catholic, working at the country’s largest kosher food company,” Copeland said.
About every 90 seconds, machines are mixing a batch of dough that will turn out about 140 boxes of crackers.
“We’re now forming it into individual crackers, which are fed into the oven. They go into the oven and three minutes from now we’re going to have cooked crackers,” said Copeland.
Those crackers will go to the Manischewitz distribution center in Mount Holly and eventually to the kitchens of Jewish and non-Jewish customers throughout the country.