Jewel Keeps it Kosher

Nov 17, 2004

By David Morse

When the Jewel-Osco store in the Chicago suburb of Evanston decided to install an all kosher food section, they made sure they did it right.

They set up television cameras in the back so concerned shoppers could view their food being prepared in compliance with Jewish law. They built special sliding doors so that kosher meat, fish, bakery and deli departments could be closed down for the Sabbath.

A large billboard proudly proclaimed “We’re Taking Kosher Shopping to a Whole New Level.”

Despite Jewel’s best efforts, the store has many in the traditionally Jewish community of West Rogers Park crying foul.

Local merchants fear their stores will be put out of business. One sign put in a store window read “Please patronize the real jewels of the community. The Heimishe owned groceries and restaurants.”

Heimishe is Yiddish for “homey” and evokes images of an intimate, familiar atmosphere, something that a large Jewel store is not.

But it’s not just merchants that are concerned. A group of Chicago rabbis sent out thousands of letters warning that supermarket chains in other cities had resulted in kosher stores closing their doors and, ultimately, higher prices. “We strongly encourage all Jews to continue to patronize their local all-Kosher food stores,” the letters said.

Moderator’s Comment: How can supermarkets target ethnic groups in their communities without eliciting the kind of
outrage and resistance encountered by Jewel? Should they try to avoid such conflicts or take the approach that the market will decide?

According to the publication Kosher Today, 18,000 U.S. supermarkets sell kosher products as part of display, shelf, or store within a store.

Albertsons is one of them. The chain’s director of ethnic marketing, Andrew Kramer, reports double-digit growth in kosher foods, on par with the 12 to 15
percent annual growth in the kosher industry as a whole over the last two decades. “We’re taking the old matzah ball, gefilte fish and borsche kosher section and integrating upscale
gourmet products that just happen to be kosher.”

Products that “just happen to be kosher” can represent a big opportunity, and major manufacturers like Procter & Gamble, Campbell Soup, Frito Lay, and
Nabisco are investing millions of dollars in the paperwork and new equipment necessary to obtain kosher certification on products that were kosher to begin with. According to
Integrated Marketing Communications, there were 75,000 kosher certified CPG products in the United States in 2002, up from 60,000 in 2000, representing about $170 billion.

The reason? More companies are recognizing that observant Jews are not the only ones that buy kosher. So do Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists, vegetarians
and people with food allergies.

But the real growth, according to Kosher Today, is from mainstream “cross-over” consumers. Research from the Mintel organization found that 28% of
all Americans knowingly buy kosher products, and 35% said they bought kosher on the basis of flavor.

These customers seem to agree that kosher manufacturers, in the words of the Hebrew National tagline, “answer to a higher authority.” Perhaps that higher
authority is Quality.

David Morse – Moderator

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