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. I live out of town and I was very pleased to see the prices good. In fact, some were cheaper than during the year. Part of it is due to the fact that we have a huge supermarket here which is part of a huge national corporation, and they are able to keep the prices low and then the frum stores have to compete (not complaining but I’m sure it hurts the frum stores).
    Liebers and Mishpacha brands, amongst others had terrific buys.

  2. You can make your own jelly, and live without tuna for a week. Also, in New York, prices are much lower than what you describe. Keep in mind that there are fewer kosher consumers in Atlanta, and that the stores are reluctant to get stuck with Pesach leftovers, so there is no economy of scale.

  3. Mr. Cohen: what brand tuna was it? (?!?)
    And was the matza hand shmurah? Not necessarily outrageous, especially out of town.

  4. Go back to basics: potatoes and eggs for ashkenazim and rice for sefardim. You can survive 8 days without commercially prepared food.

  5. Good article…but why in the last paragraph is “The [L]ord” uncapitalized? Have some respect, and remember the ultimate reason why we make all these (ultimately meaningless) material sacrifices

  6. sure prices are high but $16.99 for a can of tuna is such baloney that it takes the credebility from this so called writer.

    the answer is that you dont have to eat”kosher l’pesach chometz” just eat the basics and you’ll be fine

  7. Prices in Atlanta are much lower than previous years. The yehuda matza that I saw was $5.99/ 5 lbs the hand shmura was $19.99, And yes the tuna was for the 66oz. I also saw coke for 75cnts. macaroons for $2 a can. So these are similar to NY prices, and not much different, or even lower that year round kosher prices.

  8. I made this observation at the earlier Matzav article about this subject about a month ago. As it discusses a very serious important aspect of the problem, I will certainly post it again here.

    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 Kosher L’Pesach products that we need. 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 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, 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!!”

    I can never forget the following incident. Many years ago, Yeshiva University would sponsor 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!!”

  9. (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 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 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 good — Torah observance thing — that he did do. At one point when his son, Alav HaShalom, wanted to, Chas V’Shalom, marry an Italian goya, he strongly told him “nothing doing!” and, Boruch HaShem, the son did not marry her.

    In the period before the son was niftar a few years ago, the son 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.


    In one of his weekly Parsha HaShavua shiurim that I was privileged to hear, Rav Pam, ZT’L, related about and vehemently condemned the phenomenon of frum Jews making monetary scandals and thus causing terrible Chillul HaShems. He exclaimed that in our task of getting our non-observant Jewish brethren to come to Torah, we are NOT going to convince them by telling them elaborate arguments and philosophical proofs of the truth of Torah. Rather, the only way that we are going to be m’karev them is by when they see US acting in ways that are nice, decent, honest, and respectful.

  10. i am sorry mr. feldman’s friend and relatives had a bad experience with kashrus.however, i don’t think a person who is looking at tarfus vs. kosher from a purely gashmius viewpoint will ever be happy with kosher. there always will be certain foods we can’t have (pork, seafood) and even if you have top of the line prime kosher meat there is “why can’t i eat what he’s having”.as for l.a. kashrus in the 1920’s, i dont think newyork’s was much better and the idea of someone keeping kosher but not shabbos or tahras mispacha etc. is strange to us but not to those days. rationalzing non-observance because the rabbi,butcher,chazzan is not what one expects him to be is unfortunately something which is not strange even in our days

  11. 66 Oz can of Tuna for $16 .99 is a good price. That’s less than $2 a 6 oz can. How about buying Frum kosher products from Gefen-Kedem,and Mishpacha


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