Mark Weinsten is gung-ho on the future of Manischewitz, the iconic kosher foods brand that one week before Passover was sold to Sankaty Advisors, a subsidiary of Bain Capital.
Well aware of the criticism of Bain, founded in 1988 by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and often accused of starving its companies of capital, the newly appointed interim CEO of Manischewitz said the company’s 126-year-old legacy is in good hands.
“I will tell you that most of that information that has been bandied about for years has been incorrect, but I don’t want to focus on Bain and Sankaty,” he told NJ Jewish News in an April 9 phone interview.
“That is certainly not the plan for this organization. We want to build upon Manischewitz, not cut back or any of that stuff. We intend to take a great brand and make it greater, to build upon it.’
Weinsten said his workforce in New Jersey — which varies between 300 and 400 people at the Manischewitz plants in Newark and Lakewood — “is committed to the brand. It is obviously an important brand with deep-seated traditions.”
Weinsten said he will commute from his home in Boston to corporate headquarters five days a week as its interim CEO.
Although many of its products cater to customers looking for kosher and kosher-for-Passover products, Weinsten said the company has plans to reach a wider market.
“There is the opportunity to appeal to new customers — people who may not keep kosher but are loyal to our product because we make a great product,” he said. “We make chicken soup that tastes really good, and people who don’t keep kosher also consume chicken soup. There are a lot of people who are not Jewish that consume chicken soup. There are a lot of people who are Jewish that don’t keep kosher. We want to appeal to them.”
His marketing strategy includes stocking his wares beyond the kosher product aisles of supermarkets.
“One of the brands under the Manischewitz umbrella is called Seasons, and we sell a lot of sardines. We not only sell them in the kosher aisle but in the canned fish aisle with other brands of sardines and tuna,” he said.
Although the company began with a matza bakery in Cincinnati in 1888, its associations with New Jersey are strong. The company built a second factory in Jersey City in 1932, and later purchased a processing plant in Vineland. Since 2008, all of the company’s matza and Tam Tam crackers, as well as soups, gefilte fish, macaroons, and other products are made at the Newark and Lakewood factories. The company relocated its corporate offices from Jersey City to Newark in 2011 and owns a warehouse in Mount Olive in Morris County.
Speaking at the opening of the Newark office, Brandeis University historian Jonathan Sarna described how the company “transformed matza from a handmade local product, produced locally in every Jewish community, into a brand where the matza was square and the matzo could be shipped all across the world.”
The company passed out of family ownership in 1990, operating for a time as R.A.B. Food Group.
Weinsten said he is not overlooking the all-important “kosher” label that turned the brand into an icon.
“The fact that we are kosher means our product is made to an exceedingly high standard,” he said, “so if you add all of these things together, there are opportunities to expand our business while staying true to our customers.
“It is too early to tell, but I would not be surprised if we are successful increasing the revenues — and I am optimistic that we can — I think there will be job growth with that,” he said.