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My Sixth Sense…by Menachem Lubinsky
Emily, a Long Island housewife, was about to use an ingredient in a cake that she was preparing when her daughter picked up the box but could not find a kosher symbol. Emily was puzzled since she had picked up the product on the kosher shelf of a local supermarket. It turned out that the product was not kosher certified. Almost daily, unsuspecting consumers are subject to this type of confusion in kosher that is so often the subjects of alerts and warnings posted by kashrus agencies. Since the beginning of the year, the OK Kosher Certification advised that some Kroeger Value Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips were mistakenly packed with the OK Pareve kosher symbol when the product was dairy. Imagine the surprise of some kosher consumers when they found “shrimp” in sardines. The OU warned that General Mills is discontinuing the OU-D kosher certification from all sizes of Bugles Original due to operational changes at the production sites, and will no longer be certified. Now comes the issue of stores that will still have the product with the OU as opposed to those who will have the newly labeled non kosher products.
Despite all the gains in kosher and the yeomen’s job by kashrus agencies, the kosher consumer is very vulnerable to unexpected bumps. It begs the question of how an industry of that size can allow itself to be unprotected from honest mistakes as well as intentional fraud. I was shocked to see critics of kosher law enforcement suggest that government get out of the business of enforcing kosher food laws. Instead, they say, the community or kosher agencies should do the policing. Never mind that violators are no different than those who disregard truth in advertising or truth in packaging laws. Why not get rid of the Better Business Bureau and other enforcement of abuses and misrepresentations of all products. Let each industry police itself. How ridiculous, particularly in a state like New York that is the center of the kosher food industry in the US. Kosher food consumers deserve the same protection as all consumers do.
New York… “It should come as no surprise that products that were originally positioned primarily for the kosher/Jewish consumer can find significant growth opportunities by ”mainstreaming” their product lines (i.e. having these products participate in the general U.S. food marketplace), is the conclusion of a major paper by Milt Weinstock, a senior marketing consulting and a former Vice President of Grey Worldwide, one of the world’s largest advertising agencies. In his paper, Weinstock points to such well-known successes as Lenders Bagels and, of course, Hebrew National with its legendary “We Answer to a Higher Authority”. More recently, Sabra Hummus, originally a Jewish focused brand/ product, “mainstreamed” their line and became the growth leader in the general salads / spread/ dip market, generating +$100M in sales. Weinstock suggests that many kosher products could possibly go the route of mainstream. “Mainstreaming requires a number of disciplines and resources that many current manufacturers and marketers of kosher/Jewish oriented products need to recognize,” the marketing expert says. He says that products must answer a consumer need that is not being satisfied by current “mainstream” options and that the product actually delivers in its brand promise. Getting into the right stores and having a strong shelf presence against “mainstream” competitors, which may sometimes require “slotting allowance” fees, is another major factor on taking a product mainstream.
Weinstock notes that kosher purveyors who want to pursue taking their product to all categories of consumers will have to recognize that going “mainstream” will require an investment in marketing activities, including packaging, promotions
(trade and consumer), PR, and possibly advertising to get the word out. Price sensitivity is another major factor in assuring that consumers are getting a good value, especially in a price sensitive economy. In concluding his presentation, Mr. Weinstock urges patience: “The successful brands that have made the “mainstream” transition, have done it “right” by careful study of the marketplace, even if it took a bit more time than just running out quickly to “succeed”.
Rishon Letzion…It is a supermarket. It is a Club Store. No, it’s like a Whole Foods Store or perhaps a gourmet specialty store. The Chatzi Chinam (“Half Free”) supermarket is like no other in Israel and certainly without parallel in the US. Any kosher consumer would think of Chatzi Chinam as a Disneyland of foods. The aisles are neatly laid out to project an abundance of branded, imported and specialty items. Customers expecting to find produce at the entrance will be disappointed as the first aisle is full of housewares, kitchen utensils and detergents. There are aisles upon aisles of branded products, namely by Israel’s giants Osem and Strauss-Elite, specialty items like gourmet and organic items from around the world, fresh beef and poultry that is not packaged, its freshness obvious through a large showcase. There are prepared meals and an incredible array of cheeses and wines in what seems like an endless display of great looking foods. There are plenty of tasting opportunities as part of a general emphasis on customer service. In a relatively short period of time, Chatzi Chinam has become the model of the new-age supermarket, and everything is kosher.
Amazingly the chain is the third largest sales without having the number of stores of its key competitors. Cousins Zaaki Shalom and Mordechai are not stopping there. They continue to open more stores but are also in an acquisition mode, including the well-known Binyamina Winery which they acquired in 2008 for $13.5 million.