The news that supermarkets in South Florida and Detroit have opened major kosher sections will no doubt set off a bit of a firestorm. How do I know? I’ve been through it many times and expect no less in these two cities. In the ‘90’s, the reaction in several cities was so fierce that local stores rushed to involve regional and even national rabbinic figures in the hope of quashing the “unfair competition” from national chain stores. But a lot has changed since then, much of it related to the economy and the ever changing habits of the kosher consumer. The idea that any store can be a one-stop kosher shopping destination is passé, even in a kosher mecca like Flatbush, Brooklyn. What is becoming a rather common ritual for kosher consumers is to divide their kosher shopping in at least three ways (if they somehow manage to avoid a kosher butcher and bakery). In Flatbush, Eleanor, a 30-ish woman, shops for prepared foods (including salads and dips) at Pomegranate, discounted groceries at the local Shop-Rite and bulk discount items at Costco, about 3 miles from her house. In Chicago, Vicki shops for “heimishe” items at Hungarian Kosher and other kosher groceries in Jewel-Osco. With one-stop shopping a thing of the past for many kosher shoppers, each of the new “kosher retailers” can comfortably carve out its niche without surrendering to the other. Independents offer a selection that the supermarkets do not while the discounters can offer sizes and bulk items that neither can compete with. Eleanor, for example, buys a good deal of her produce at Costco. I do not in any way wish to minimize the tough environment out there for the kosher independents. Some feel that they are constantly under siege. If it isn’t by other independents that are changing the landscape of the shopping experience, it is by discounters like Target who are also of late laying claim to the kosher market. My hunch is that the multi-store kosher shopping habits will be true in Aventura and Detroit as well. While the going may be tough for the kosher independents, one sure winner is the customer, who for now would rather pay the extra few cents for the soaring gas prices to drive to discount locations than be beholden to any one store. This appears to be the state of kosher retail midway through 2011.
June 6, 2011