January 25, 2010

Not all Discounters are Created Equal, Kosher Distributors Say

New York…Shoppers of kosher foods can fill a basket of both essential and different products at the growing grocery presence of the large discount chains. In recent years, chains like Costco, Wal-Mart, Trader Joe’s and Target have dramatically increased their grocery sections and in many locations a growing number of kosher foods. Just last week, Target announced that its future expansion plans are not so much in new stores but in its grocery offerings. Trader Joe’s has also developed many private label kosher items, including kosher (not glatt kosher) meats produced under the supervision of Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag of the Triangle K Kashruth Agency. The agency also certifies Hebrew National products and claims it has introduced many upgrades in the “kosher” certification. But manufacturers and distributors say that not all the discounters have put an emphasis on their kosher programs. For example, while COSTCO appears to be involved in the kosher program from its corporate and regional offices, the decisions in Wal-Mart are still pretty much left to individual store managers, which have often put them at loggerheads with distributors and manufacturers. The distributors say that the kosher programs at the discount stores, primarily those in heavily Jewish populated areas, are still evolving and in many cases it is on a store by store basis. COSTCO’s new Manhattan store has become a model for many discounters with separate sections in dry grocery, refrigerated, bakery and frozen. Despite prophesies that this growing involvement by the discounters will cut into the sales of the conventional retail chains and even independents; thus far there is no evidence of a dramatic shift. The distributors say that customers have not abandoned the grocery chains in favor of the discounters but are increasingly being selective in the items they shop at the stores.