On the day we gathered for the opening of the new Manischewitz headquarters, the weather was beating down in a rhythmic thrum that alternated between glorious sunshine and dismal rain. Reporters, distributors, politicians and various kosher foodies all struggled to stay huddled under the event registration tent. They told us all about the storied history of this 123-year-old company that is easily the most recognizable kosher brand on the market.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker took to the dais to express his gratitude for Manischewitz having brought their 200,000 square foot business to the city of Newark and to lend his personal blessing and hopes for their continued success. With only mild effort, Booker quoted scripture in Hebrew and English, talking about how food unites a culture. Following him was the Israeli Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger. His speech was similarly eloquent but with the added charm of his accent.
But these affectations were just the beginning. We of the press were not just there because the largest and most influential kosher brand on the planet was opening up a new home. Marketing specialists deemed it necessary to give the press something to really sink their teeth into. And so once the mezuzot were hung, we were given a tour of the new factory and the privilege of watching them make what has referred to as the Monster Matzoh. The Monster Matzoh was the world’s longest matzoh at an inch over 25 feet.
I will admit that watching them make it was greatly amusing but unnecessary in my eyes since all I wanted to do was get a greater in-depth tour of the wondrously cavernous factory that they had walked us through to get to the matzoh baking portion. What I saw of the factory was amazing. I caught glimpses of gefilte fish being made and the machine that gives birth to soup in a tube. Corridors stretched as far as the eye could see, stacked with pallets from floor to the 100-foot high ceiling. They were populated by drums and bags filled with just some of the almost one hundred million pounds of flour that Manischewitz uses every year. I didn’t need a giant matzo. To me the story of Manischewitz was enough.
The worlds largest kosher company fell on hard times. Their products increasingly became considered old and outdated, and so they revamped, introducing newer and more innovative products. Seamlessly, they folded their classic items like gefilte fish into new products like Moroccan Fish Meatballs. These items may take some getting used to taste-wise, but are nonetheless impressive because it demonstrates Manischewitz’s active drive to keep up with the growing demand for more specialized gourmet products.
What makes this even more important is that Manischewitz is the face of American kosher food. This is because whether you’re in Fargo or San Jose, no matter how devoid an area is of kosher consumers, chances are the local grocery stores still carry a miniscule amount of kosher food, all of it made by Manischewitz. As a result, people throughout the country who have no concept of kosher still know that Manischewitz is our brand, our Coca Cola, our Kraft. Which is why the drive to stay relevant is so vital for Manischewitz. Not just for the good of their company, but for the good of kosher consumers everywhere.
They contribute greatly to the reputation of kosher and whether they intend to or not, they facilitate kosher education. This was the story that interested me. A new, modern headquarters for an old company that created the kosher landscape and is working diligently to compete in today’s kosher market. If the new building is to be a metaphor for the continued and future success of Manischewitz, then I am certain that we will be eating their quality products for many years to come in any number of obscure American cities.
Zechariah Mehler is a widely published food writer and expert in social marketing. Follow him on Twitter @thekoshercritic