Even with coronavirus disrupting Passover plans, kosher food business Kayco finds its specialty products selling well

Passover, the major Jewish holiday, is always a busy time for the family-owned kosher food company Kayco.

This year might be a little extra busy.

This Bayonne-based company is another of the local food businesses striving to stock grocers’ shelves amid the coronavirus pandemic’s shelter-in-place orders and the scramble for supplies.

Many Jews are canceling plans for Passover — a weeklong holiday that falls between April 8 and April 16 this year, a period expected to require some level of lockdowns to slow the COVID-19 disease’s spread — but there’s already been a bump in demand for foods and beverages allowed by Jewish dietary laws.

Harold Weiss, a longtime executive at Kayco, said that’s not all due to an abundance of shoppers running directly to the Kosher section to gather needed items for Passover.

“We’ve been filling voids for all customers,” he said. “When we have a customer who doesn’t keep with Jewish dietary law that finds empty shelves looking for pasta sauce, canned vegetables or peanut butter at a grocery store, we actually have all those items.”

Kayco is the result of a merger of several different kosher food companies, and represents more than 70 different brands. How far-ranging can a kosher company get with food?

Today, Kayco’s products go well beyond kosher staples like matzo and Manischewitz wine.

Here’s a hint: There’s much more than matzo.

“I like to say, ‘We have something for everybody, but not everything we sell is for everybody,’” Weiss said. “Someone asked me this morning, ‘What don’t you sell?’ The first thing that came to my mind is toilet paper.”

Weiss, an executive vice president who has been at Kayco for around 30 years, said that, when he started working at the company, it only produced about a dozen different food items. It now has about 5,000 different stock-keeping units across the plethora of brands in its portfolio.

The supermarket business has changed a lot during that period as well, Weiss said. The rise of specialty grocers, Whole Foods and other businesses has been a trend that helped in the company’s longtime push to make kosher mainstream.

Grocery store customers didn’t always have kosher products put in front of them. Now that they do, this specialty food category isn’t overlooked, Weiss said. That’s true for big companies, too. Kayco has parterships with PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and other well-entrenched brands.

So, with kosher food being seen as an easy alternative for stressed shoppers today, how is Kayco not completely out of stock yet?

“We’re a big little company,” Weiss said. “We’re experts at what we do in our category. And we’re our own distributors, servicing the kosher consumer anywhere in the country. We also find ways to navigate or substitute when we do have shortages of one product.”

In communicating with the company’s procurement leader, Weiss expects that the supply chain will remain in good shape.

There should be enough of the company’s products at its grocer partners to keep those eating kosher food well-supplied, in other words.

“But you can never be totally sure what tomorrow will bring — or three months from now,” Weiss said. “Even if it’s the saddest way to sell product I can think of, this is a well-run company. I consider myself fortunate to be surrounded by people who are knowledgeable.”

Weiss might have confidence in the family enterprise’s ability to stock shelves — but he’ll admit that he’s just as anxious about the pandemic situation as anyone else.

“Behind the curtain, I’m just another guy,” he said. “We’ve had low turnover here, and so I’ve been working with some of these same guys 30 or more years. I’m worried about the people I work with, as well as my family and everyone else.”

Conversation Starter

Reach Kayco at: 718-369-4600 or visit kayco.com.

Read more from ROI-NJ on coronavirus: