Blockbuster move for falafel men

Great Food, one of the UK’s leading kosher food companies, has teamed up with DreamWorks to cash in on the children’s healthy food market. We talk to the men behind the collaboration.

By Candice Krieger, July 22, 2010
Happy ever after? Great Food’s directors believe targeting the children’s food market will significantly boost sales

Happy ever after? Great Food’s directors believe targeting the children’s food market will significantly boost sales

One of the UK's leading kosher food manufacturers and one of the world's top film production companies might not seem the most likely pairing for a business collaboration. But that has not stopped Beth Din-supervised Great Food from securing a unique deal with US-based film giant DreamWorks as they look to target the children's healthy food market.

Great Food, which supplies to Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Prêt a Manger, have launched a "baked not fried" range of traditional deli foods for the chilled food market. They have teamed up with DreamWorks to launch the first new product in the Real Deli Baked not Fried range - a Shrek falafel snack pack.

The company, run by Richard Loebenberg and Norman Bookbinder, will pay a royalty to DreamWorks to use their graphics to market the Great Food products. They have also secured a licensing agreement with Heinz to include a sachet of tomato ketchup with every Shrek pack. The products launched on Sunday (July 18), coinciding with the release of DreamWorks's blockbuster movie Shrek Forever After.

Great Food have invested £350,000 in equipment to convert their falafel from fried to baked, reducing the fat content by 50 per cent.

Commercial director Mr Loebenberg, and managing director Mr Bookbinder - the duo have close to nine decades working in the food industry between them - are confident the new healthier products will significantly boost sales and account for up to ten per cent of the group's annual turnover.

Number crunch

Proportion of Great Food’s total sales that falafel makes up

Great Food falafel balls produced a year

Amount of weekly fish balls Great Food produce

1tonneChopped liver Great Food produce in a week.

Sixty-five year old Mr Bookbinder, originally from Salford, has been in the food industry for close to 50 years, working at Bloom's and, more recently, Great Food's sister company, Gilbert's. He says: "There was a great deal of pressure from many of our supermarket customers, suppliers and major retailers for healthier products."

Initially, they will concentrate on converting their falafel - one of the company's best sellers - from fried to baked. But they intend to transform the entire range in time.

"It's very exciting. I think it's the first time that any type of kosher company has spent this kind of money to bring this unique concept to the market. A year ago people would not have believed a kosher company in the UK or Europe could accommodate this type of technology. We have done enough of the sums to understand that the investment is safe and viable both financially and from a community point of view.

"I can't see how any loving or health conscious parent would not take the health benefits into consideration for their children. It's a no-brainer really."

Mr Loebenberg, who founded Great Food 12 years ago, adds: "We identified that more and more children were starting to enjoy falafel and the opportunity to take a children's licence will enhance our position."

The deal takes Great Food, which has its products in every major supermarket nationwide, into the snack-food, lunch box and picnic market.

Not bad for a company started by one person which seven years ago was approaching £450,000 annual revenue. Today, the firm has grown to a team of 23 staff with revenues expected to be close to £3m this year.

The keys to success? Falafel for one. The company produces 45 million falafel balls a year from their Milton Keynes factory and sales comprise 35 per cent of total sales.

Mr Bookbinder, a grandfather-of-one, acknowledges that convenience has played a major role in driving both the company's growth and the kosher food market. "I don't know if anybody makes their own fish balls or chopped liver anymore. Why would you want to when you can buy a pack with a month's life on it?

"In the US there six million Jews, and 17 million kosher consumers. The American experience is now being repeated in the UK. Many non Jewish people buy kosher, because of its perceived high quality level." What's more, online grocery store Ocado is widening distribution of their products. "The Jewish housewife is turning to the internet for her shopping."

"The influences of European foods have also driven us forward," adds Mr Loebenberg, a former food manager at Marks and Spencer. "People travel more and there are greater communication channels between countries."

Born in South Africa, it was there that Mr Loebenberg, now 55, got his first taste of the retail world, helping out in the family business - an associate company of Marks and Spencer - at the age of 11. "I stood on coat boxes weighing sugar behind the scenes. I have happy memories of that and pinching sweets from pick and mix counters."

He moved to the UK in 1976 and joined Marks and Spencer's food department. Mr Bookbinder, who has spent 17 years in the kosher food industry, started out in the family butcher's shop in Manchester. Both acknowledge that the industry has "expanded enormously" in the subsequent years.

The Shrek collaboration, which was launched at a party at the London Jewish Cultural Centre as the weekend in association with their Fusion youth programme, is due to run for around a year to 18 months.

Mr Bookbinder says: "The potential is endless."

Last updated: 11:26am, July 22 2010