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Kosher Shopping - long

  • s

I know that in greater NY/NJ and probably LA there are dozens (if not hundreds) of options for shopping for kosher food.

Here in Chicago we have fewer options. Skip the background below if you know about Chicago.

Background
If I simply need kosher products I can always go to a local chain store (Jewel or Dominick’s) or independent which will no doubt carry the usual array of hechshered products and may even have a small "kosher" section. If I shop there, then I probably also purchase much of my produce, eggs, milk and household supplies there too.

If, however I want meat, cheese, fish, shabbat paraphernalia, deli items, prepared foods and unusual items I go to a kosher store. Amazingly, there has been only ONE "all-kosher supermarket" - we have a number of smaller all-kosher grocery stores (the Kols), 3-4 short aisles with an extra room – for just about ever.

A few years ago the Jewel chain (part of Albertson’s) remodeled a store, adding a kosher department - deli, prepared foods, sandwiches etc., in the suburb of Highland Park. Apparently it was successful because later they added a packaged kosher meat (Rubashkin’s and Empire), packaged cheese and greatly expanded kosher section at a second store in the suburb of Skokie. That worked so well that this month they have again remodeled a store – this time in Evanston on the Chicago border - which now has a very large supervised kosher department/section (prepared foods, cakes, deli, cheese etc. etc), is long rumored to be opening a Chinese take-out section and expanded an already large kosher section.

*******
This week a letter was sent to just about the entire observant community over the signatures of much of the local Rabbinate warning us against the evils of “occasional low prices and convenience” and a “non-shomer shabbos store.” They declare that by shopping there we will drive the others store(s) out of business, resulting eventually in higher prices and even suggest that there might be kashrut concerns.

Which brings me to some questions. What is the experience of those of you who live in NY/NJ or LA. Has competition from chain stores driven “Jewish” stores out of business? Has kashrut suffered? Have prices increased or deceased. Any other issues or thoughts.

Thanks,

Sandy

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  1. I am not from NJ/NY/CA but Chicago as well but thought I would through my two cents in -

    Having family in Memphis where Krogers and Seesel's (another Albertson owned chain) opened expanded kosher sections inclusing fresh meat and bakery there was fear of it driving out the smaller kosher businesses but the ones that were able to adapt or provide a product that is higher in quality are still going to be there and are thriving - I think Chicago will be the same way and I think some of the stores have already done so, like hungarians, or provide a unique product, I will drive to Romainians for their in store made coldcuts and hot dogs the best i have ever tasted.

    In addition, as much as we would like to think so, these grocery stores are not expanding their kosher sections just for the Jewish community but also to the Muslim community, Kosher meet is Hallal, and the perception that kosher implies a higher quality and non-kosher people will pay a premium for it. Found this out when the Kroger regional manager came to present to the memphis community about their plans -

    Ultimately, what is going to drive where people shop is price - and so in terms of meat Jewel might have the occasional item on special they are still more expensive than the local kosher grocery stores.

    5 Replies
    1. re: David

      Actually, from an earlier discussion on this board I thought that kosher meat was not in fact halal.

      1. re: DeeDee

        For strict halal followers, it's not, but for many looser followers I've met and read about, it's good enough.

      2. re: David
        a
        Amin (London Foodie)

        I find this thread quite interesting, and agree with
        the thoughts expressed by Foo d , Clarissa, David, and
        others

        Last Feb/Mar I was invited to one of the monthly
        meetings of the Ingredients trade in London's Belgrave
        Square, where a presentation was being delivered by a
        well known professor from Cornell in relation to the
        difference between Kosher and Halal, and it gave me a
        far better understanding at the difference particulary
        as I had no idea that kosher entailed the majority of
        products one normally buys from a supermarket. A
        product which for example is processed or packed on a
        non-kosher belt,or is transported in a non-kosher
        truck, is not kosher. This was my understanding from
        this seminar.

        Halal on the other hand applies mainly to meats such
        as chicken, beef, lamb, etc, and involves the
        slaughter of the animal in the proscribed way, with
        the relevant prayer being said at the time of slaughter

        Haram (Har-aam) on the other hand are those foods
        which are not halal in any respect, but are
        specifically forbidden, such as for example
        ingredients containing certain 'e' numbers (there
        exists a long list of prohibited ''e'' numbers), pork,
        bacon, sausage, ham, proscuitto, lard, certain fish
        (viz., blowfish / those fish /seafood that do not have
        bones within them), however if for example one
        unknowingly eats food that may contain say pork or
        lard for example, then one is forgiven

        I may supply various ambient foods such as chocolates,
        oils, rice, seeds, nuts, etc and dont mind in dealing
        in halal/non-halal, kosher/non-kosher as long as it is
        not pork related in any way, this being the one line
        of total prohibition as far as I am conerned.

        I recently imported some sesame oil from Singapore
        which was certified as Kosher and halal It took me
        a while to realise the reasons for approvals by both
        bodies,

        Unfortunately have misplaced the name of the professor
        or the website address of the department at Cornell
        however if I locate it, shall provide it at a later
        stage.

        Halal is not kosher, nor is kosher halal, however there are many similarities between the jewish and the muslim faiths and while halal is a first preference for muslims, in the absence of a source of supply, the first alternate choice would be kosher.

        At home we get only halal meat/s however when I go
        out, I eat non-halal. One of my favourites is salt
        beef sandwich (there used to be an excellant salt
        beef shop in the city area some years ago, and
        another one called Rubens in Baker St which I think
        has either moved or closed, however Selfridges in
        Oxford St, has a wonderful salt beef sandwich on
        the ground floor just beside the Up escalater).

        Hope the above us helpful.

          1. re: Josh
            a
            Amin (London Foodie)

            Thanks Joe,
            you're right. Professor is indeed Joe Regenstein
            and the website to go to is:
            http://www.ift.org/pdfs/crfsfs/crfsfs...

            Its a document in acrobat reader of some 17 pages
            or thereabouts.

      3. I live in NYC and do most of my shopping in a large store (containing both kosher and unkosher items) which is pretty conveniently located. It has a huge selection and decent prices, and is kept clean and well-stocked.

        There are two stores in my neighborhood that are kosher, and are even more conveniently located. I do go there occasionally, but I don't find them as clean or as well-stocked. Also, they are very expensive. I am happy to give them my business from time to time, but I sometimes resent the prices and limited service. They are fine for take-out, when I need it. With or without my frequent business, they seem to be doing fine.

        I'm happy to give the major store I go to my business. I don't really care if they're open on Shabbat. By purchasing their many kosher items, I hope I'm sending out a subtle message to stores in my area that the many kosher people in the neighborhood appreciate having a decent kosher selection.

        When I became kosher I completely abandoned my favorite store (which specializes in fish but has many other items, as well) because they haven't made any effort to draw in the large kosher community around here.

        I think sending out disparaging letters about stores that go through the trouble to remodel and stock kosher items is rude and short-sighted. The more options there are in the area, the happier everybody should be.

        There was this story a few years ago about a store in one of the outer boroughs which was owned by a non-Jew, but which stocked many kosher items for the large kosher population in the area. Their biggest competitor, a Jewish store owner, sent out letters saying some terrible and untrue things about the kosher items in the non-Jewish owned store. It was very sad to hear about him struggling for business because community pressure was keeping his once-loyal customer base away.

        I hope the little guys stay in business, but people have a right to shop where they want.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Clarissa

          My experience is a carbon copy, Clarissa, and I'd guess because it's the same group of stores. :)

        2. a lifelong liberal in the political and economic senses, i've become a much-bigger fan and more appreciative of capitalism as i've aged i also happen to live in a kosher home in chicago. as far as i'm concerned, the more competition, the better.

          yes, competition might (tho i doubt it would) drive places like romanian and hungarian and smaller places out of business, and that would be ashame, as i shop at and appreciate both. but, and this is what the local rabbinate does not seem to appreciate, it might force those stores to improve themselves (in look and offerings), to innovate and provide new or unique goods/services that bigger stores like jewel does not, and perhaps to spur other food providers (dominick's, neighborhood groceries, ...) to also offer kosher goods. and, more competition means (or should mean) lower prices for the consumer and perhaps more sales to the vendor. i don't enjoy paying $12.99/lb. for corned beef from romanian, even though the quality is great. but, if the price were lower, i'd certainly buy it much more often and in greater quantities. all of this, as far as i'm concerned, is a good thing for the vendors and the consumers.

          1. Shop-Rite, which is a big supermarket chain in the NY/NJ market has in many of their stores what is called the "Kosher Experience". Some of the stores are in areas with large Jewish populations that already have kosher only markets. They sell fish, meat, prepared foods as well as a very large array of packaged products. The fish and meat counters are locked up over shabbos to keep everything separate. They've had no negative impact on the kosher markets. From my own experience, I often stop at Shop-Rite and the kosher market on the same trip -- each store has its own strengths and weaknesses.

            1. k
              Kosher Vendor

              As a kosher vendor who is familiar with this particular situation I will add my two cents. I have no problem when a large supermarket chain decides to offer more kosher product. For obvious reasons it means more business for me. However, when the supermarket hires an individual to increase kosher sales and is bent on putting out of business local kosher markets, I draw the line. From my experience the addition of kosher to large supermarket chains has been the death blow to the local grocer/butchers.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Kosher Vendor

                I'm grateful that someone with experience on the other side of the counter is speaking up, but I have to say that I am confused by your post. It sounds like you say that supermarkets adding kosher products is both OK with you and not OK.

                1. re: uncle moishy
                  k
                  Kosher Vendor

                  Correct. When a supermarket adds kosher to a Heightstown or Marlboro N.J. great, there are few if any local kosher vendors who get hurt. However, when a supermarket opens in Skokie,IL with the intent of hurting local kosher stores I say not great. For the record, I will not sell my product directly to chains that threaten small stores. I have also asked my distributors to honor this policy. In addition I will do as much as I can to help the local market/grocer. Don't forget it is the small local stores that have been working hard for the consumer, selling kosher food well before the supermarkets found a way to your dollars by bringing in kosher.

                  1. re: Kosher Vendor

                    Thank you for the clarification. The threat large outfits pose to small local stores is a story that has played itself out many times in different spheres, not just in the world of kosher. Shopping malls, Wal-Mart and other "big box" stores have decimated older shopping districts all over the country (but only moderately in NYC, where I live).

                    Back to the kosher question, it's interesting that you mentioned that you won't sell to large chains that you consider predatory. I, who live in Brooklyn, have noticed that at the local Shop-Rite, which has a very large selection of kosher products, including fresh meat and fish (even sushi!), prices on many items from "wholly" kosher companies (not just a national brand with certification, but FUBU-like Jewish companies making blintzes, chummus, frozen gefilte fish, cholov yisroel ice cream, etc.) are definitely higher than in local kosher groceries. It's not clear if this reflects mfrs. charging the chains more (which you would approve) or if the chain simply tacks on a greater markup for whatever reason.

                    But there's another side to every coin and there's one here too. For starters, the Wal-Marts of the world save consumers a lot of money. Is it reasonable to ask consumers not to shop at the lowest-price retailers simply for the sake of an amorphous community value? Individual consumers may not have the financial means to do that. More importantly, the competition of big chains undoubtedly has a positive impact on the quality of service the smaller stores provide. Simply put, without competition among sellers, the buyers get screwed. There's no better example of that than the kosher restaurant industry, which has been known to mistreat its captive audience something fierce. And we can all name examples of smaller kosher retailers that do the same with exorbitant prices, dirty stores, items past their 'sell by' dates, etc. And personally, nothing galls me more than the "kosher" mfrs. who buy the inferior merchandise that supermarkets sell as house brands or no-frills, stick on a label that says Ungers or Gefen or Liebers, etc., then charge you more than top dollar for it. Think ketchup or cranberry sauce or salad dressing.

                    Sorry for this long-winded venting, especially since I'm firmly on both sides of the fence here, but issues like this can be complicated. Plus I'm a windbag generally.

                    1. re: uncle moishy
                      m
                      Michael Sheib

                      If I may put in my two cents...

                      I live in Washington, DC where there are 4 kosher markets serving the enitre metro area. I think that for most items, their prices are quite high and unreasonable. At the same time, Trader Joes, a national chain store, sells most of the items I would normally buy at the kosher supermarket, (chicken, challah, turkey, kosher cheese, pasta sauce, cookies, parve sorbet and toffutti etc...) all with reliable hechsharim, at a discount of between 25-35% percent over their competitors including the kosher supermarkets.

                      While I would like nothing more than to support local kosher businesses, the fact of the matter is that on my tight budget, I would be a fool not to frequent those businesses that offer those products I am most apt to use at the most reasonable price.