Opinion: Paying Exorbitant Pesach Food Prices

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manischewitzBenyamin Cohen reports on Slate.com: Last week I saw a can of tuna for $16.99, a $5 jar of jelly, and a $6 box of cereal. I felt like I was in a foreign country with rampant hyperinflation. Is this really in dollars? Maybe I’m supposed to convert the currency. Alas, I wasn’t abroad. I was in the kosher-for-Passover section of an Atlanta grocery store. As observant Jews the world over can tell you, it’s expensive to be one of us. From synagogue dues, to JCC memberships, to Jewish private school tuition, it all starts to add up rather quickly. Kosher meat, for example, costs approximately 20 percent more than nonkosher meat. But Passover takes the cake. (Metaphorically of course-most cake is forbidden on this leaven-free holiday.) In general, Passover food is marked up an additional 20 percent over regular kosher prices, hence the $24 box of matzo I saw at that same grocery. It seems we should add another question to the traditional four associated with Passover: Why is this food so expensive?

Many blame exorbitant costs on a complex price-fixing scheme among the three major Passover food manufacturers – Manischewitz, Streit’s, and Horowitz – which came to light in the early 1990s. Nobody served jail time, but Manischewitz pleaded no contest and was forced to pay a $1 million fine in addition to donating another $2 million in kosher food to charity. It was a PR nightmare, which drew national attention to the problem (at least briefly). But it didn’t affect business practices that much in the long run. After Manischewitz repented, they hired an executive from RJR Nabisco to run the company and eventually bought out Horowitz, all while continuing to keep prices high. (Its remaining competitor, Streit’s, has figured out another-more inventive-way to recoup the gains they made during the scandal. They now market their matzo to churches and are one of the major producers of Communion wafers in America.)

It’s tempting to accuse Manischewitz of price-gouging-but that’s hard to define and even harder to enforce. “A business can charge whatever price it wants for a product,” a spokesperson for New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs told me by phone. The DCA used to send out annual press releases reminding consumers to be extra careful with their Passover shopping and even had a hot line to report problems. But, after not receiving many calls, the DCA stopped this practice a few years ago. More recently, some state attorneys general have filed complaints to little or no avail.

The kosher-for-Passover market would seem like a prime business opportunity for someone to come in and completely undersell everyone else. To some extent, that has happened with co-ops cropping up across the nation that offer significant discounts on food ordered in bulk. Furthermore, a number of Israeli-based companies have started producing less expensive products, now available for purchase on many online sites. But those prices are still relatively high. After all, even they know the basic truth of their business: Observant Jews, who are so strict during the eight days of Passover they won’t eat anything else, don’t really have a choice but to buy these products.

To many, standing up for the Passover manufacturers is like defending Wall Street bankers. There are, however, a couple of valid reasons for the seasonal markup.

First, most reliable kosher agencies require full-time supervision for Passover production (as opposed to occasional pop-ins by rabbis for year-round kosher items). And it’s not just for the finished product, but for each of its ingredients. Take, for example, that expensive bottle of ketchup. It’s comprised of multiple ingredients sourced from other manufacturers. Not only does the ketchup have to be made under full-time supervision for Passover, but so do the spices, vinegar, and oils that flavor it. And someone’s got to pay for the rabbi’s time. Second, in just about all the cases, companies must clean production equipment thoroughly to get rid of any non-kosher-for-Passover ingredients. This process often requires a costly 24-hour downtime for the production plant.

Since prices are likely to remain high, consumers are taking matters into their own hands. Jewish community groups, a valuable purchasing bloc for local grocers, have pressured supermarkets to at least keep prices steady from last year, urging them to consider the dismal economic climate. And, by many accounts, they’ve met with some success. In fact, certain prices have even gone down. This year’s $5 jar of jelly sold for $7 last year. Praise the lord. Passover is a holiday about redemption and about hoping for a better future. Next year in Jerusalem; next year, let’s bring that jelly down to $4.

{Slate.com/Noam Amdurski-Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. Actually I found the pricing to be very fair especially if you shop in the right store. There were many specials on items that were cheaper during the Pesach shopping season than all year round.

  2. A can of tuna for $16.99!? Even if it would be true in some far out community – it’s loshon hora to write such a thing, as it criticizes Kosher food producers and makes it seems that’s typical.

    This article is slanderous and exaggerated in my opinion.

  3. It depends a lot on where you live. In my community we have really strong leadership which doesn’t hesitate to let people know what’s the proper thing to do. We also have large kosher grocery stores who buy in bulk. Smaller cities, or those with less vigorous leadership, will have problems. And then there’s New York, which is, as usual, a free-for-all. Well, “free” in this context isn’t exactly the right word 🙂

  4. I agree with #5. Out of town prices are higher, it’s true, but I don’t see how it’s possible to pay $16.99 for a can of tuna, approximately 10 times the regular price.

    So … I assume you did not buy the tuna, correct?

    If I were in that situation I’d probably load up on vegetables, matzah, spices, meat, eggs, and dairy products (which are often kosher for passover any way at this time of year), and go a simpler route. Sorry about the jelly — maybe you want to make your own strawberry preserves? It is yummy.

  5. Matzav has posted this superb article each year right before Pesach for the last few years, as it is an ongoing serious issue. Therefore, B’Ezras HaShem, I will post here a copy of the remarks I have made at some of the postings. As, B’Ezras HaShem, we will see, it IS quite a serious issue — a serious issue of an outright Chillul HaShem.

    We, who anyway are observant of Torah, will simply grin and bear it as we pay these overly inflated prices for the (general) Kosher and (specifically) Kosher L’Pesach products that we must have and have no other way to acquire. However, what we don’t realize and what we forget about is that our Jewish brethren who are not in the realm of Torah observance, are certainly NOT going to pay huge high prices for something that they do not understand the reason for and do not really even believe in — kosher food.

    There is no question about it, the extra exorbitant prices of (general) kosher food items and (specifically) Kosher L’Pesach food items — items which are often of poorer quality than the non-kosher counterparts — give non-religious Jews plenty of fuel for their excuses for not wanting to follow Torah. “Just because a rabbi says ‘Amein’ on this piece of meat, that is what makes it ‘permitted’ for me to eat it??” “And just because the rabbi did say ‘Amein’ on it, means that I have to pay twice as much for it??” “The kosher meat is terrible; it is mostly bone and all full of fat!!”

  6. (continuation of last remark)

    I can never forget the following incident. Many years ago, Yeshiva University sponsored these week long camp/retreat trips that were similar to the well known NCSY conventions. On the airplane flight back from the first one that I was privileged to attend, I was seated next to a guy who I had known a little bit. A couple of times, my mother had taken him and me on some outings. Years latter, I was attending the Orthodox shul where he held his Bar Mitzva; I was impressed with the large amount of people who came and that he did an excellent job with his readings. And now, he had just went to this YU seminar.

    So I was quite surprised to now see how ANTI-religious he really was. When all of us were served the airline “Schreiber’s” brand kosher meals, he started complaining to me and went on and on with how terrible it was that we had to eat these terribly made kosher meals. He pointed over to some non-Jews who were enjoying the regular meals with large scrumptious entrees and exclaimed: “LOOK AT WHAT THEY ARE GETTING!!”

    When the plane landed and we were getting up to get off, he bluntly told me: “When I get home, I’m going to have a GOOD meal!! NOT Kosher!!”

  7. (continuation of last remark)

    Regarding Pesach products, they are even more cynical: “A-a-a-w, they just change the labels!”

    I once had a distant relative, Alav HaShalom, who was a really nice, helpful, wonderful person. Unfortunately though, he knew very little about Torah. When he grew up, he did a Shidduch with the daughter of a rav. (As to how the rav could have acceded to his daughter marrying a man who had little involvement with Torah, remember, this was during the 1920’s, when Torah observant people in America were extremely few and extremely far between.) My relative took great pride in it, as he happily told me: “I married the daughter of a RAV!” He then proudly explained: “A ‘rav’ is higher than a ‘rabbi’; there are different levels!”

    Even though he obviously had no shaichus to Torah observance, there was still some kind of understanding that he and his wife would keep a kosher kitchen.

    At one point, they moved to the Los Angeles area, where, in those days, any kind of true Judaism was quite limited. My relative had a grocery store, and his wife went to the local kosher butcher for the kosher meat and poultry products. Now this was certainly very difficult for him, for in his own grocery store, he himself carried good quality regular “Armor” brand chickens.

    One evening when he came home to his wife, as they were looking at the kosher chicken she had bought, they realized that its kosher company label was really just a piece of stick on paper that was stuck on top of the plastic wrapping around the chicken. So they pealed it off, and lo and behold, underneath in the plastic wrapping WAS THE LOGO OF THE ARMOR COMPANY! This “kosher” chicken was obviously really just a regular Armor chicken that the kosher butcher had probably got from my relative’s store!

    Of course, we do not know why the butcher did this: Did he just mean to make a friendly joke? Did he have some kind of perverse pleasure in this shtick of pulling such a sick prank?

    Whatever was the butcher’s intention, my relative DID NOT take it as a joke, and he DID NOT think it was funny! He did not think it was funny at all!! Oh yeah, he was really enraged:


    Needless to say, this was THE END of him — and his wife — the daughter of a chashuva rav — who obviously had no choice but to go along with her husband — this was THE END of them having anything to do with “kosher”!!

    I will mention a couple of good — Torah observance things — that he did do.

    When I once stayed at his place for a Shabbos and was going to Daven on Shabbos morning, he went in his room and brought out to me an orthodox Siddur. When he latter came in the room and saw me siiting on the chair reading the Siddur, he exclaimed: “GOOD!”

    At one point, his son, Alav HaShalom, wanted to, Chas V’Shalom, marry an Italian goya. He though, strongly told him “nothing doing!” and, Boruch HaShem, the son did not marry her.

    In the period before that son was niftar a few years ago, he had some involvement with the local Chabad center and was seriously considering giving it a huge grant of money for a memorial for his parents.

  8. I believe that clarrification to a slanderous article is needed. Perhaps the author should write that the can of tuna was for 67 oz can and NOT the usual 3oz can of tuna. That being said, on retail scale of bishul yisroel, KFP tuna is a very good price. I also saw the same stores being described BUT noticed something very different. Lays potato chips for $1.99 which is less than the regular potato chips in the year round section. Also a can of macaroons for $2.99 which is very reasonable for any snack of that size even for non-kosher.
    Perhaps, rather than be critical we should thank the out of town supermarkets, distributors and manufacturers for providing so many products of varied sizes and flavors. Never before have we had over 2000 passover items available for purchase and enjoyment.

  9. “In my community we have really strong leadership which doesn’t hesitate to let people know what’s the proper thing to do.”

    Which is? Eating matzah, potatoes and eggs? Please enlighten us.


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