Kosher Wars Hit South Florida


Delray Beach, Fla. — The full-page ad for Winn-Dixie Stores in a leading metropolitan daily here last week trumpeted the headline, “New kosher deli and bakery … plus better kosher selection.”

Another full-page ad in the same newspaper, the Sun-Sentinel, called on Jewish readers to “stop by Publix and let us provide dinner for you. We’re offering two different Passover meals arranged by Gourmet Kosher and guaranteed kosher under personal Orthodox rabbinical supervision.”

Meanwhile, Albertsons’ three supermarkets in South Florida all have kosher bakeries, kosher delis and a kosher meat department.

South Florida, with a population of 500,000 Jews — the third largest in the country — is now becoming the battleground in what is developing as a supermarket war for the growing kosher market.

“Our kosher response is because of the need in the area,” said Deborah Shapiro, special foods category manager for Winn-Dixie.Shapiro pointed out that Winn-Dixie published a Passover cookbook and a Haggadah this year, and that its stores in Aventura and Tamarac will have kosher-for-Passover deli counters.

The store in Aventura has had a kosher deli counter for three years and the one in Tamarac will open in time for Passover. That store will also have a kosher bakery. “We also have a kosher section on our Web site that lists the kosher items [in the store],” Shapiro added. “We have more than 1,000 corporate-branded products that are kosher, and that number is growing as we identify more and more kosher suppliers.

“It became an initiative for us since last May to make as many products kosher as we can, and we will change over” as soon as kosher suppliers are found.

Mitzi Korn of Boynton Beach, who was shopping for kosher-for-Passover products in Albertsons here Monday, said she was surprised by Winn-Dixie’s new approach. She said the supermarket had a reputation similar to that of A&P in the North because it was perceived as catering to non-Jewish clientele.

Publix, on the other hand, was seen as being comparable to Waldbaum’s in terms of its outreach to the Jewish consumer. A spokeswoman for Publix, Maria Brous, said this is the fifth year that Publix is offering the prepared kosher-for-Passover dinners. She said the dinners — a choice of sliced brisket with jardinière gravy or sliced turkey breast with giblet gravy — has been offered at 30 of its stores.

She declined to say how many orders had been placed last year, but the clerk at a Publix here said she took four orders last year and had one so far for this year.

Doris Kline of Delray Beach said that although a kosher deli and bakery at the Winn-Dixie here would do well because it is near Kings Point, a heavily Jewish community, she had one reservation.

“Are the kosher people really going to believe it,” she asked. “Are they going to have a mashgiach [kosher supervisor]?”

Star-K is providing the kosher supervision for both the Aventura and Tamarac delis, Shapiro noted, adding that Star-K is also “helping with the education of our customers and our associates, and is giving us articles to post for consumers.”

Asked about the perception of Winn-Dixie in the Jewish community, Shapiro said the Jacksonville, Fla., company emerged from bankruptcy just last November and considers itself a “new company.” Its slogan is, “We’re getting better all the time.”

And she said the emphasis on the Jewish consumer is not just a local effort but also one that is spreading to about one-fourth of the chain’s 521 stores in five states in the Southeastern United States.

“We are in the process of updating kosher selections in all of those stores,” she said, noting that the Winn-Dixie in Jacksonville is working with a local synagogue to have a kosher wine tasting and other events in conjunction with Kosher Awareness Week.

Joel Henning, the manager of Winn-Dixie’s store here, said he believes a kosher deli and bakery would do well here, should the company decide to introduce it. He said that after the full-page ad ran last week, “I had a lot of people come here thinking we had a kosher-type café opening.“We’ve been trying to cater a little more to our kosher customers,” he said. “In this area there are a lot of kosher consumers, and in the last six months we have added many kosher items.”

In fact, Henning said another kosher section stretching 16 feet was recently added to the 18 feet previously allotted to kosher food. “We’re realizing the demand for the product,” he added. Abe Gold, a mashgiach at Albertsons, said he has been there seven years and has seen an increasing number of kosher-observant Jews move into South Florida.

As a result, he said, more kosher stores are opening and existing stores are renovating to accommodate these consumers.

“In Aventura, a big kosher grocery, Sarah’s Tent, has opened and another kosher store is opening in Tamarac and a third in Sunny Island in the Miami Beach area,” Gold said. “Another called Aroma opened in Hollywood.” Murray Levin of Delray Beach said he applauded Winn-Dixie’s addition of new kosher products and said he would welcome a kosher deli and bakery here. “It’s a great idea,” he said as he pushed his wagon through the kosher-for-Passover display.

Sol Fischer and his wife, Tessie, of Delray Beach said they would continue to shop for their meat at Albertsons no matter what the other supermarkets do. “It’s clean and safe,” Tessie said as she stood at the kosher deli counter.

“I know this store, and I know where everything is.” But her husband said he welcomed the competition because it might “lower prices.”