Menu JTA Search

Kosher supermarkets offer broad selection of products

NEW YORK, March 31 (JTA) — First there were pushcarts laden with kosher food. Then came small kosher groceries and, later, aisles of kosher products in chain supermarkets. Now all-kosher supermarkets, stocked with thousands of kosher food products, are popping up across the country. And if a customer cannot get to one of those stores, two online kosher supermarkets offer delivery anywhere in the world. Shoppers “know nothing non-kosher has gotten mixed in” with the kosher products, said Shimon Mendlowitz, owner of Wesley Kosher in Wesley Hills, N.Y. Kosher food is big business. Integrated Marketing Communications, a company that tracks the kosher food industry, estimates that kosher food accounts for $3.2 billion worth of food sales each year — and more than 40 percent of that is spent on food for Passover. Kosher supermarkets are able to offer more shelf space for those items than a chain supermarket. Some 16,000 products are available for Passover alone. And it is that variety that attracts the customers, both religious and secular. People come from small surrounding towns and as from as far away as Kentucky and Wisconsin before Passover, said Moshe Rosenberg, owner of Unger’s Kosher Market in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Menacham Lubinsky, president of Integrated Marketing, said the public has an “infatuation” with these “mega-supermarkets.” People spend more money and buy more products in these stores than they might ordinarily have purchased, he said. But the success of all-kosher supermarkets is not guaranteed. How many people buy their “whole order here?” asked Stuart Kaufman, owner of Katz’s Kosher Supermarket in Rockville, Md., one of the nation’s oldest all- kosher supermarkets. Most people, Kaufman said, pick up a few items at this store and then do their major shopping at a chain supermarket. “They say the trend is to kosher, but I don’t see it,” Kaufman added. Rosenberg agreed. “There is not much of a base” for kosher consumers and “you compete with the chain supermarket.” And a good location does not guarantee success. Two all-kosher supermarkets in the predominately Orthodox Flatbush section of Brooklyn, N.Y., have gone out of business in recent years. But others, including Lubinsky, believe all-kosher supermarket are here to stay. There is “more demand for this type of store,” said Lubinsky. It is “a trend that’s just begun.” The trick to staying alive in the competitive food industry, some owners say, is having a hook that attracts shoppers. Rosenberg relies on a bakery that appeals to many ethnic minorities, including Polish and Hungarians, to help draw in customers. Wesley Kosher’s hook is glatt kosher meat, which they kasher and package at the store. All-kosher supermarket owners estimate that some 10 percent of their business comes from non-Jews, including vegetarians, black Muslims and Seventh-Day Adventists, who follow strict dietary laws and do not eat meat. “We have quite a few non-Jewish customers who like the [store’s] cleanliness, brightness and friendly” service, said Miriam Mendlowitz, who, along with her husband, owns Wesley Kosher. Kosher consumers who are far removed from heavily populated Jewish areas have not been forgotten in the new trend. We want to make a “global village of kosher food,” said Alex Schleider, vice president of operations at Kosher Supermarket. The virtual supermarket — — sells over 4,000 kosher products ranging from gefilte fish to freshly cut deli. The store allows people to “let their mouths do the walking in the convenience of their own living room or office,” Schleider said. Customers from as far away as New Zealand and Chile have taken advantage of the online market, he added. While Kosher Supermarket sells food one might expect to find at a local store, another online service’s product list is much different. Kosher Grocer — — is “more of a gourmet specialty store,” than a traditional supermarket, said Deborah Alexander, who owns the virtual grocery along with partner Craig Diamond. One customer who hopes to benefit from the virtual supermarkets is Shaindy Harms, a Canadian Jewish woman who is moving to the eastern Arctic. Harms, who said she would go the “ends of the earth to keep kosher,” was hooked on online kosher shopping after she learned that Kosher Supermarket would ship all over the world.