The first statewide kosher food market basket survey, which Governor Mario Cuomo ordered in response to widespread complaints about kosher product price gouging, indicated that while prices for kosher meat and poultry did not rise during its current pre-Passover shopping period, observant consumers still pay twice as much for kosher foods as do consumers buying similar non-kosher products.
In disclosing the survey findings, Cuomo said he would create a permanent Kosher Foods Advisory Council to examine, among other matters of interest to observant consumers, why the same kosher grocery item can be significantly more costly in one store than another. He said “the issue we now will explore is whether kosher food prices are exorbitant all year around.”
Cuomo said the survey had also found that consumers buying matzoh and matzoh meal for the coming Passover will pay higher prices in upstate New York retail outlets because of recent price increases but that downstate residents can expect to pay the same price as usual for matzoh products.
A spokeswoman for the Governor’s New York City office told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Cuomo had not indicated when he planned to set up the advisory council. The survey was made by the state Consumer Protection Board (CPB). Staff members visited 27 supermarkets and nine kosher butchers during the weeks of February 13-24, March 12-13 and April 2-5.
Of the 36 stores surveyed, 12 supermarkets and four kosher butchers are located in the upstate areas of Albany, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo. The other 15 supermarkets and five kosher butchers are in the downstate areas — New York City, Westchester County and Long Island.
PURPOSE OF THE SURVEY
The Governor said the purpose of the survey was to monitor the prices of grocery items purchased by observant Jewish consumers for Passover. He said the CPB staff informed wholesalers and retailers that they were being monitored.
He declared that the monitoring, “along with all the publicity this issue has received over the past year through the media and public hearings, kept prices from going up as they have in the past. The issue we will now explore is whether kosher food prices are exorbitant all year around.”
The advisory council, Cuomo said, will conduct monthly and bi-monthly market basket surveys; conduct hearings of interest to observant Jews; examine the possibilities of pre-packaged kosher meat being sold in supermarkets; researching other brands of kosher poultry, in addition to those now on sale, which could be made available in supermarkets to observant shoppers; and “generally overseeing what is happening in the kosher marketplace.”
The Governor reported members of his staff have been meeting with representatives of various Jewish religious groups to discuss a proposal to establish a kosher slaughterhouse in New York as a way to assure effective processing of kosher slaughtering, assure the supply of kosher meat and increase the possibility of lower costs to observant consumers.
The CPB survey checked prices of matzoh, matzoh meal, gefilte fish, borscht, matzoh ball soup, potato pancake mix, kosher and non-kosher gelatin, fryer and roaster chicken, chicken cutlets and brisket of beef.
The survey indicated that the statewide average price for a ten-ounce box of matzohs was $1.04 in February, $1.08 in March and $1.11 in April. The statewide average prices for a 24-ounce container of gefilte fish were, respectively, for the same periods; $3.12; $2.91 and $2.80. Prices also dropped in the averages for prices of gefilte fish for both upstate and downstate.
Average prices statewide for a pound of kosher chicken rose from $1.55 in February to $1.60 in April. Average statewide prices for a pound of non-kosher chicken were 97 cents in February, 96 cents in March and 98 cents in April.
The survey found that of the six supermarkets offering kosher chickens, prices varied by as much as 50 cents per pound between stores for the same name-brand chicken. Kosher chicken cuts varied by as much as 70 cents per pound for the same brand product from one store to another.
With the exception of matzoh, matzoh meal and meat and poultry products, prices for kosher products generally remained the same or dipped slightly during the survey period in the upstate regions but declined slightly in most downstate stores.
MANY QUESTIONS RAISED
Richard Kessel, executive director of the CPB, said the survey results raised many questions. He said these included why a significant number of supermarkets in New York State did not sell kosher chicken; why only two major brands of kosher chickens are available in supermarkets; why kosher meat is totally unavailable in supermarkets; why exactly the same kosher item varies so greatly in price from one store to another in the same area; why there is such a disparity between the prices of kosher and non-kosher meat and poultry; and what can be done to monitor the industry on an ongoing basis.
Kessel said that, at the Governor’s request, the CPB would investigate those issues and report back to him as soon as possible. He also noted that because of special supervision, ingredients, processing and marketing costs, kosher foods, including meat and poultry, generally are higher priced than similar non-kosher products.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.