April 26, 2010

Kosher Retailers Say Recession Still Curtailing Buying for Many

New York…The recession continues to have a significant impact on kosher food sales despite a perception that kosher food is “recession-proof,” KosherToday has learned. In dozens of interviews with industry officials, it became clear that the buying habits of kosher consumers was markedly different this past Passover than it was just two or three years ago. “People are being squeezed on all sides” said a Boro Park retailer, “and they are more price conscious than ever.” He said that he observed that more customers were buying from lists rather than just impulse buying or walking up and down the aisles and picking up items. In nearby Flatbush where Pomegranate has set a new standard in shopping for kosher foods, there were many customers who now shop in multiple stores. A kosher blogger wrote: “I have learned to buy items at Pomegranate that cost about the same everywhere (i.e. many dairy products) and to save by buying at places like COSTCO, Paperific and the Kollel store.” The retailers say they are constantly reminded by customers of a breadwinner that has lost their job. Stores that recorded double-digit growth in 2008, said they only did 2% - 3% better on sales during Passover 2010 than they did in 2009. The same seemed to be true in kosher wines where many customers shunned the more expensive wines they routinely bought in 2008. The number of people relying on help from such charities as Met Council on Jewish Poverty, Tomchei Shabbos and Keren Aniyim as well as similar organizations in cities outside of New York also increased significantly.

Despite this disturbing development for the kosher food industry, sources say, the industry as a whole seems to have weathered the “pockets of downturns” well. They pointed to making up some of the slack with volume. “Natural growth has always helped the industry even in a down economy,” said one kosher food manufacturer. New items also continue to drive sales as younger kosher customers continue to show a strong desire to try new and interesting foods. While there is talk of a recovery, in the kosher food industry the recession still continues to take its toll.