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    Going Kosher

    Some vendors converting to religious tastes.

    SECAUCUS, N.J. -- Some 20,000 buyers, restaurateurs, vendors, retailers and caterers slung salami, nibbled on cheese and crackers and pounded pastries at the 14th annual Kosherfest, the largest exclusively kosher trade show in the country.

    From snack foods to Israeli-manufactured wines to deli, the kosher market has mushroomed in the past decade. According to organizers, kosher has achieved mainstream status, with sales bursting from $2.2 billion in 1994 to an estimated $6 billion in 2002, and a projected $7.5 billion by 2005.

    The appeal of carrying one of myriad labels such as O-U, Triangle K and other known kosher symbols found on packaging has prompted companies like M&M Mars to make ingredient adjustments to satisfy kosher requirements. Underscoring the popular swing to kosher, only a few years ago, Oreo cookies and Wonder Bread -- once icons in the Jewish world of forbidden products -- have gone kosher.

    "We go to the supermarket and convenience store shows," said one national vendor, whose products went kosher about six years ago. "But we're finding that there's a nice opportunity in the Jewish kosher markets and we're letting them know that we're interested in their business."

    A Hasidic buyer told CSNews Online the general public continues to have misconceptions of the meaning behind kosher. "They still think of (forbidden foods) as being pork and that kosher is the rabbi blessing foods. They don't understand that food coloring may come from crushed insects, which are forbidden, or that filling in snack foods may be from (lard-based) gelatin. Kosher is much more subtle and more complicated than you would think."

    The event, which was held Tuesday and Wednesday at the Meadowlands Exposition Center and attracted more than 350 exhibitors, will be held next year at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York.

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