January 17, 2011

Industry Debates Positioning of Kosher Foods in Ethnic or Kosher Aisle

New York…The growing presence of kosher foods on supermarket shelves is not without considerable debate about its positioning. Supermarkets like Publix in South Florida that have recently increased their kosher offerings continue to put these foods in the Ethnic aisle. As expected, food industry officials are divided about the wisdom of showcasing kosher in an ethnic food section. Some believe that the Ethnic aisle exposes the kosher food to many non-traditional kosher consumers while others say it is far from desirable, particularly for kosher consumers. Yakov Yarmove of SuperValu who oversees some 60 kosher stores says that the kosher designation “is important in primary kosher stores that cater to large Jewish communities but in stores with four or so feet sections, being in the Ethnic or International section makes more sense.” Rabbi Leonard Steinberg of the Orthodox Union agrees: “I think that the ethnic section gives it wider exposure. Aside from the kosher observant crowd, the people who are kosher friendly are a small group. The ethnic section is a bigger draw.” Meyer Roberts of Twin City Poultry in Minneapolis thinks that kosher would always do better “than ethnic because it sticks out more and also appeals to hallal customers.” An official at Alle Processing believes that good kosher products get shortchanged when relegated to the kosher set. “Matzo balls and stuffed cabbage are great items not just for the kosher consumer. Though they are kosher consumer oriented, they are unfortunately placed in kosher-only settings.” Some of the kosher food executives whispered that despite the enormous strides that kosher has made, some supermarket executives are still uncomfortable with a public designation for kosher. A prominent kosher food distributor said: “There is this culture of fear that displaying too much affection for kosher might create a backlash, first it was the rednecks and now it is those that are sympathetic to the Palestinians. These are obviously ghosts in the closet when compared to the proven benefits of public displays of kosher.” There were some who felt that putting kosher foods in a section marked International Foods is far better than Ethnic Foods. “Many more people like to feel broad-minded in looking for international foods rather than the narrow confines of Ethnic.” Several distributors interviewed for this article felt that stores that are located in Jewish community “do themselves a disservice by not prominently displaying kosher foods under the kosher banner.” They said that this is “not a debate about semantics but of potential profits.”