September 30, 2013

The Dramatic Changes in Kosher Retail

The landscape of kosher retail was dramatically different from what it is today when Kosherfest was launched in 1989. In fact, it is the changes in retail that has propelled kosher to what it is today, a $12.5 billion industry. Back then, the kosher mom & pop grocers were still very much the main game in town. They were largely family owned and were closely connected to their customer base. They knew when Sam’s bar mitzvah was and what kind of flanken Sam’s mother liked.

There were a few supermarkets that courted the kosher consumer, namely chains like Waldbaum’s, which was “the Jewish supermarket” and several Shoprite and Pathmark stores, but most other supermarkets gave kosher only a perfunctory nod by stocking Matzoh, Borscht and Grape Juice on the eve of Passover. The expansion of the kosher groceries took place concurrently with a slow encroachment of supermarkets that began to see the value of attracting a loyal and in many cases more affluent kosher consumer. In fact, the grocers complained bitterly that the supermarkets created unfair competition and that was true in cities across the nation.

Over the last 25 years the small mom & pop kosher grocer either went out of business or became mini supermarkets themselves. Families like Garber, Chaimowitz, Landau, Goldberg, Boehm (Seven Mile Market – Baltimore), and Kirsche (Hungarian Kosher – Chicago) adapted to the changes by offering a one-stop store with everything that a kosher customer would need as did smaller stores in Los Angeles, Miami Beach, and Philadelphia. The large chains ever so slowly expanded their kosher sets and supermarkets in almost every major and secondary kosher market slowly emerged as major players in kosher. 

The upscaling of kosher was also a factor in the dramatic increase of kosher products that ultimately led to the new generation of kosher supermarkets, dominated by Pomegranate, Gourmet Glatt, and Evergreen. Not to be forgotten is the emergence of the club stores and discount chains as major grocers. Today, almost all of them including Wal-Mart, Trader Joe’s, Costco, Target and Sam’s Club offer a wide array of kosher products. Nowhere were these changes more evident than at Kosherfest as each year the badges of the visitors reflected the new players in kosher retail.