January 12, 2015

BREAKING NEWS – Exclusive to Kosher Today! $1 Billion Kosher Market in France Largest in Europe Despite Mayhem

Paris…The four Jews killed in the terrorist attack on the Hypercacher supermarket were there like some of the other 16 shoppers trapped in the store, making some last minute purchases before the Shabbat due to begin at 6 p.m. The store was due to close in an hour, at 2 p.m., when the gunman sprayed the kosher market with bullets killing the four, including one who had tried to wrestle the gun from the killer. Haim Assaraf, is well known to the kosher market in the US. As the owner of Shneider’s, many of his products are sold in the US, including his extensive candy line. The Assarafs live in the Vincennes neighborhood, one of several Jewish enclaves in Paris, where the targeted Hypercacher was located. In fact, says Mr. Assaraf, “they are one of my biggest customers.” The Hypercacher is one of a chain of eight such independent kosher stores located in key Jewish neighborhoods. Shoppers who are familiar with the American kosher stores compared the store to Pomegranate in Brooklyn, an upscale kosher market that offers shoppers a one-stop kosher destination. Albeit far smaller than the large independent grocers in the US, the idea of having a broad variety of kosher choices in one store is what attracts kosher shoppers to these stores. In addition to several small privately owned kosher grocery stores, French Jews also shop at the large kosher chain, known as Cach Cacher, which has 27 stores. Major supermarket chains like Carrefour also carry many kosher products. Yesterday, all Hypercacher and Cach Cacher stores were closed as Haim and other Jews joined one million Frenchmen and world leaders in the historic unity march.

Ironically, the Hypercacher chain was acquired just two weeks ago by the Mimun brothers. They bought the stores from the Ensalem family, which also owns the largest kosher meat distributor in Europe. Jewish sources in France put the number of Jews living here at 700,000 with nearly 500,000 living in Paris. An estimated 20% are believed to eat kosher all the time with an additional 20% on occasion. Like in many other countries where there is a significant Jewish population, the number rises significantly on Passover when well over 90% of French Jews sell their chametz to the CRIF, the Jewish community council in France. The events at Hypercacher as well as other incidents in Toulouse and a growing radicalization amongst France’s 5 million Muslims is certain to accelerate Jewish emigration, sources say. In 2014, more than 7,000 Jews left for Israel and Jewish leaders expect more than double that number to leave in 2015. Many other Jews have emigrated to the US, a significant number in Miami. Haim says that for most French Jews, “it is no longer a question of whether to leave but rather when.” Some young Jews have left even before the recent events because of France’s deep recession, but others are already staking out Israel and even using savings to buy an apartment in Israel. One sign of the imminent departure of many French Jews is the closure of several kosher restaurants in a city that had prided itself for having one of the largest concentrations of kosher restaurants. Most of the recent openings were fast food restaurants but Paris is still a kosher restaurant haven.

Olivier Princ is a consultant who has worked for the big SIAL food show in Paris as liaison to both the kosher and Halal markets. His recent plans for a European version of Kosherfest was scrapped because of the rising tensions in Paris during and after last summer’s Gaza war. He and several rabbis reached by Kosher Today say that there is a level of cooperation between the Muslim and Jewish communities on issues like animal slaughter and even joint certification of some plants, albeit that kosher consumers have rebuffed products that have the dual certifications. He is still planning a kosher section at an upcoming March food show.

Laurent Journo is a French Jew who is also the Marketing and Management Specialist for the US Embassy in Paris. Mr. Journo has over the years documented the growth of the kosher market in France and has in fact even published a list of kosher restaurants in Paris for visiting Americans. Like Haim, Laurent occasionally shops at Hypercacher and shares the apprehension that most Jews feel. He does not see any appreciable decline in kosher offerings in France anytime soon, but agrees that many French Jews will leave. Irrespective of their views, it was clear that the recent events left a 1000-year old community extremely on edge.