New York – To be sure, there has been much change in the landscape of kosher over the past five years. New super kosher markets have surfaced or are due to be launched in such cities as the five boroughs of New York, Monsey, Lakewood, Teaneck, Clifton, and Baltimore. Large discount chains like Costco, Target and Wal-Mart have significantly expanded their kosher offerings as have specialty stores like Whole Foods. Convenience stores, gift shops and even gas stations have also expanded their kosher selections.
Despite these changes, say industry sources, the majority of Americans looking for kosher products still shop in supermarkets. Chains like Winn-Dixie, Jewel-Osco, Mariano’s, and Kroger’s have all upgraded their kosher programs in recent years. The Orthodox Union West Coast Region will honor Ralphs on June 16th with the OU National Kashrut Leadership Award. Ralphs has expanded its service to the kosher consumer by opening three “Kosher Experience” counters under OU supervision in the Los Angeles area, in addition to the original counter in the Ralphs La Jolla store. A new Wegman’s in Brooklyn, the first in New York, is also slated to include many kosher products.
The industry sources point out that the large chains have managed to hold their own even in markets where the new super kosher stores have opened. A good example is the ShopRite in Brooklyn, located within earshot of the upscale kosher supermarket Pomegranate, which continues to do one of the highest kosher sales volume in the Wakefern franchise. Shoppers still consider the large supermarkets as better priced with many saving opportunities through coupons, say the sources.
Perhaps the biggest shift in recent years is that many Orthodox shoppers have become loyal shoppers of the kosher superstores and are shopping less in the large supermarket chains. But in most markets throughout the US, supermarkets are the venues of choice for kosher shopping, especially amongst an estimated 1.5 million Jews who “occasionally” shop kosher (such as on holidays and while entertaining) and “crossover” mainstream shoppers. It is no secret that the supermarket industry as a whole has seen profits slip resulting in consolidation, mergers, and closure of branches. Yet, the industry sources point out they are never at the expense of kosher. On the contrary, they say, many look to kosher and specialty foods in general as a way of restructuring and the road back to profitability.