Kosher Shopping - long
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.
If I simply need kosher products I can always go to a local chain store (Jewel or Dominicks) 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 Albertsons) 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 (Rubashkins 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.
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.
I find this thread quite interesting, and agree with
the thoughts expressed by Foo d , Clarissa, David, and
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
re: Kosher Vendor
re: uncle moishy
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.
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.
re: uncle moishy
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.
I can only speak for New York, never having lived in Los Angeles. And even then, I can only speak for Boro Park, a community from which I have lived only a short distance since 1984.
I am happy to report that tiny, independent groceries stores are alive and well on Thirteenth and Sixteenth Avenues and show no signs of dying off. I think there are three factors at work here: volume, convenience, and religious zeal.
In New York City the average Orthodox family has 7.2 children. Let's round that to an even seven. Add two parents. Sometimes there are even grandparents, elderly aunts and uncles, or an orphaned cousin in the household. So that means our stereotypical observant homemaker is preparing meals for nine or possibly more people three times a day. That's A LOT of food, people!
Besides food preparation, our homemaker is also busy with child care, housekeeping, laundry, and the zillion and one administrative tasks it takes to keep a household running smoothly. Plus, on Shabbos the only things she can do are care for the children, serve food at mealtime, and clean up whatever messes occur that threaten the sanitation of the home. When she needs to go food shopping, what is she going to do? Get in her car and fight New York traffic to go to the Big Chain Store Foods outpost? Or is she just going to grab a cart and head down the street or around the corner corner to Moishe's Tiny but Thriving Kosher Grocery Store?
Finally consider the role of religious zeal in all this. Every year I see families, some of rather modest means, pay tremendous premium prices just to buy Passover matzoh from Israel. Why? BECAUSE THE EXPRESSION OF RELIGIOSITY THROUGH FOOD CHOICE IS IMPORTANT TO THEM. In the everyday world, the one advantage that a large supermarket chain might have over a small neighborhood store is price. But in the observant world, this scarcely seems to matter.
My prediction: we are not going to see Kroger's Kosher Mart in New York City in our lifetime. There are too many factors working against such a venture succeeding.
As we see from this discussion, the answer is not so simple. Even the kosher stores themselves purchase primarily by price, (assuming the products are kosher), rather than by an interest in yiddishkeit.
I sell to several of the kosher stores in Chicago, but I can tell you that my my connection to the community is of little concern. They want the lowest price and quality service. If I can't provide that they'd go to another vendor.
So, while I do like to support the Kosher stores, I have to admit, I'd like them to look at other members of the community in a similar vein. Like most businesses, they are doing their best to maximize profits. That means purchasing at the lowest possible cost and selling at the highest possible price.
It does seem to me that a couple of the stores are meeting the competition by upgrading their offerings and facilities.
I used to live near Skokie, then moved to central Florida (IMPOSSIBLE to buy kosher food) and now live in Cincinnati. While this area is the second oldest Jewish community in the country and has a very large community, there is only one little store that sells kosher (and some non-kosher) products. To but meat we have to drive to Columbus (100 miles) or to Chicago (320 miles). I would LOVE to have a kosher grocery here and shop at Hungarian AND Jewel when in the Chicago area. I think the competition should remind the small markets that they need to bring their prices down to a competitive level and stock a wider variety of items if they are worried about Jewel. Jewel only sells supervised and heckshered items in their kosher section, so why is the local rabbinate up in arms unless they are trying to influence the public to stay "in the community" to help their congrgants who happen to own the little shops?
I am all for the small local shops staying in business, but often times, these small stores are well over priced and don’t always have the items you want in stock.
If you’re unhappy with the current situation, as many people seem to be, I might advise you to try out www.GlattOnDemand.com . Their prices are reasonable and they have what you want. An online company like this could help out your friends down in Skokie.
my 2 pence worth ....
driving out small shops is a problem worldwide, not just kosher. For example, Tesco's in the UK are now carrying a vast selection of Polish products to serve the ever growing Polish community which is bound to put some of the independent stores out of business.
However, kosher stores also employ a moshgiach and the local Orthodox Boards certainly don't want to have them out of a job. So whilst you can certainly buy all the goods you normally do at your local supermarket and check your own hechshers, this is done for you by the Moshgichim.
Sadly over the years I have seen many small Jewish Kosher businesses go to the wall. here in south florida a local bakery went out of business because Albertsons and Publix sell kosher bread and cakes and they were cheaper than the little bakery. I do think Jews should support Jewish owned stores in all walks of life but with times so expensive everyone is cutting back so if you can buy Heinz ketchup for $1 cheaper in your regular market you are not going to buy it at the kosher market.
Even though this a real old post I will respond to these last two current posts. I buy most of my meat from a kosher butcher shop. They give me individual service and have a large selection of different and good cuts of meat. If I want a bunch of rib eye steaks I select and buy a whole roast from them and they slice them as thick as I want. I buy most of my chicken from Trader Joe's. The ones near me carry Aaron's and they are cheaper than the kosher butcher. Tj's is also a lot closer and more convenient to grab some chicken at 4:30 to make dinner.
The Albertson's 2 blocks from my house does not carry any fresh kosher meat but does carry the usual kosher stuff and some frozen things. They started carrying Sabra hummoses. The kosher butcher that I go to charges 2.99 per package, Albertson's charges 4.99 for the same package. I go to the butcher about once every week or two and only buy the hummos from them. Albertson's also carries a frozen Kosher pizza that my butcher carries but charges 2 dollars more than the butcher. I but the pizza from the butcher. I would however like the convenience of doing all of my shopping at one place near my house instead of multiple trips or a 15 or 20 minute drive to buy my groceries. I do think that there is room for both. There are still non kosher butchers out there that survive because they offer unique products or services that the large grocery stores do not.
Our local (Los Angeles area) Ralph's supermarket and others in the neighborhood does carry a selection of kosher meats, as well as a larger selection of kosher items in general. This does not seem to have affected the business of the two small kosher markets in the area, and in fact a medium sized kosher market opened within the last year or so. Strangely enough, they manage to stay in business with prices that are competitive with the non-Jewish supermarkets, so the competition seems to be beneficial to everybody. After all, when I see a huge markup in a small kosher market on an item I know that they bought at a large box store (Costco), I don't consider it a mitzvah to buy it from them instead of going to Costco myself.
If you are talking about Solomon's bakery it went out of business b/c their customer service was horrific. For every 5 times I went in there I walked out with nothing about 4. Going to Albertsons is a lot easier and friendlier, and cheaper. I bought a package of marrow bones at a kosher market in Boca for $8 in Albertsons it was about $2. I will continue to shop exclusively at albertsons as long as they offer the better deals. We are no longer at a time in South Florida where we are forced to deal with the expensive Kosher Market - we have options.
pitagirl I do agree with you about Salomons bakery in many respects, they were nowhere near as friendly as they could have been nor were all their products good. It is a shame that Boca cannot manage a good kosher bakery or stand alone butcher, although to be honest I do not think they would be well supported however good they were.
seems this is an old post yet the sentiments remain the same. Here is South Fl, Albertsons stores have big kosher departments (1 has a moshgiach on the premises), and our Publix stores have a basic kosher section, and of course many products are OU or *K etc anyhow. And yes, the Kosher stores are doing badly and are closing down. There are 2 surviving Kosher stores in my area that are doing pretty good business but they are more expensive than going to the supermarket. Any small kosher bakery or other small store cannot seem to sustain themselves. Also true of the kosher restaurants here.