June 13, 2011

Winn-Dixie in Move to Change Kosher Landscape in South Florida

Aventura, FL…It was the day before Shavuos, the two-day Spring holiday of “Weeks” that ended on June 9th. Shoppers were enjoying the spacious aisles and impressive array of kosher products  at the remodeled Winn-Dixie, the newest destination for the area’s kosher shoppers. It was only a week earlier that the store officially opened its new kosher store within a store with a great deal of fanfare, impressing many of the food executives that traveled to South Florida to join in the festivities. Nathan Herzog of Kedem, who had no doubt been to many similar events, praised the professional manner in which the event was put together. “It was very impressive for such a chain to do it right,” said Herzog. “There were big crowds and the event was well-planned.” Herzog also had reason to smile at the store’s impressive wide selection of wines that fit in well with the fresh meat department, bakery, fish, gourmet items, and specially marked aisles for Israeli products, kosher snacks and juices. Herzog and many other executives who toured the store praised the leadership of Deborah Shapiro, the Specialty Foods Category Manager at Winn-Dixie Stores, who has spearheded the chain’s aggressive move into kosher. The Jewish Journal of Dade County described the store as “one-stop kosher shopping.” Despite the growing kosher fare at such big chains as Publix and discount stores like Costco, the Winn-Dixie model was a first in the region by being “very open about its kosher program,” a local rabbi told Kosher Today. Publix, a key competitor of Winn-Dixie, has been increasing its kosher fare of late, even offering chickens from KJ Poultry as well as Empire, but there is little signage to flag the kosher products. The rabbi was concerned about how Winn-Dixie would impact “the independent kosher stores who invested so much into this community.”  But at least before Shavuos the independents also seemed to be as busy as ever, many offering products that are not available at the Winn-Dixie. At the beautifully remodeled Winn-Dixie, there was evidence that the management prepared for the holiday with a large assortment of cheesecakes and even flowers. The rabbi acknowledged that Winn-Dixie is bent on getting it right. He recalled that a local Wal-Mart had once offered kosher meat, “but did a good job in keeping it a secret and before too long it was gone, which is certainly not the way Winn-Dixie is going about kosher.” Many of the local rabbis and officials interviewed for this article thought that the Winn-Dixie move would be good for consumers and may even encourage some Jews who are “only nominally kosher” to buy kosher all the time. Ironically, the big kosher deli counter at Winn-Dixie stands only a few feet from the store’s regular non-kosher deli. At least on this Erev Shavuos, it appeared that the kosher deli was indeed the main deli of the store.