Five hunks of Hebrew National salami lie side by side in a glass display case at Ben's Kosher Delicatessen in midtown Manhattan. When compared with the crispy corn dogs and enormous latkes, they don't look like much. But the takeout counter guy is relieved he has any salami to sell at all.
For the last several months, a shortage of Hebrew National products has hit kosher restaurants and food distributors across North America, forcing some to fill the gap with other meat products -- ones that don't "answer to a higher authority," as the Hebrew National famous advertisement put it.
The shortage comes at what should be a time of celebration, as Hebrew National, which was founded on Manhattan's Lower East Side, celebrates its 100th birthday.
"At this point, we've been working very hard to increase production," said Julie DeYoung, a spokeswoman for ConAgra Foods Inc., the Omaha-based food giant that bought Hebrew National in 1993. They just built a new manufacturing facility in Quincy, Mich. She said shortages on some of the most popular products -- hot dogs and lunchmeats like turkey and salami -- would continue for some time.
Hebrew National has seen "several-digit growth" in demand for its hot dogs in recent years, DeYoung said.
Demand is strongest on the East Coast, she said, though it is picking up on the West Coast. And, as super-retailers like Costco begin stocking Hebrew National products, DeYoung said, the company is becoming, as its name suggests, national.
Overall, kosher products have experienced growing popularity in recent years, fueled, in part, by the belief that kosher products are healthier. Also, other groups like to eat kosher products, such as Muslims who buy kosher for the meat, or lactose-intolerants who purchase pareve products.
But for the man behind the counter at Ben's, the reasons for Hebrew National's success are much simpler.
"You can't beat their hot dogs," he said. -- Chanan Tigay, Jewish Telegraphic Agency