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New York…Wal-Mart may be years away from opening stores in New York City, but the speculation about its effect on kosher has already begun. City officials say that the mega chain will find fierce opposition to opening in the five boroughs but some kosher food industry officials said that their arrival in the City “was only a matter of time.” A chain of Wal-Mart stores in New York would most likely mean a new major competitor for kosher. In the past few years, stores like Target and Costco have already changed the landscape as more and more consumers shop the club and discount stores. Some kosher food industry officials say that it is not clear which Wal-Mart will show up for kosher. They were apparently referring to the retailer’s mixed reputation with kosher consumers. While Wal-Mart carries kosher products in several hundred stores, it has not been particularly aggressive in pursuing kosher. Vendors say that its Monticello store which caters to some 250,000 vacationing Jews in the Catskills, has not measured up, leaving the territory to independents and chains like Shop-Rite.
Wal-Mart is mounting an aggressive campaign to open stores in New York. It is even willing to forego its traditional model of opening mega stores and instead opening smaller stores, a move that may also allow them to bypass City Council approval. Supporters are already drooling over the prospect of many new jobs, but opponents say that these jobs would only replace existing jobs of small businesses that will be forced to either cut back or go out of business. For kosher consumers a Wal-Mart in New York City with many kosher products may just be what they need, particularly for financially hard pressed families.
New York…With 2010 winding down to just a few days, there seems little chance that the remaining two inspectors of the Kosher Law Enforcement Bureau of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets will be spared come December 31st. According to several high-level sources reached by Kosher Today, come January 1st the bureau will be manned by only its director Rabbi Luzer Weiss. The inspectors were terminated as part of state budget cuts to close the gap on the state’s growing deficit. The sources said that there may have been other reasons, including the lack of any significant public protest, a cave-in by the state to a second lawsuit by the Commack butchers who knocked out (through their first lawsuit) the state’s 100-year old kosher food laws, a house-cleaning of appointees of former Governor George Pataki (a Republican), and a “non-appreciation” of the role of the inspectors.
But Kosher Today has learned that the role of the state in enforcing its current kosher laws will most likely be revisited in the new administration of Governor-Elect Andrew Cuomo. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a key advocate of the kosher food laws, was one of those who said he would take a close look at the state’s enforcement of the laws in the future. Several other legislators echoed the Speaker’s sentiments. Kosher food sources fear that the state’s elimination of 11 inspectors in a relatively short period of time will severely impact their deterrent effect on kosher establishments. One leading rabbi who has been a strong advocate of saving the jobs of the remaining two inspectors, said: “I fear that the removal of the inspectors will mean that retailers and other kosher establishments will become lax in how they present kosher to the public and that would be an absolute disaster.”
New York…Kosher retailers in many parts of the country are faced with an unprecedented dilemma: What to do with the ever-increasing number of new kosher products. The retailers say that many of the new products are rife for placement in almost every part of the store — grocery, frozen, and refrigerated — but that finding the space is a daunting challenge. It appears that even stores with adequate space, stores that have at least 5,000 square feet are finding it hard to find shelf space for an estimated 300 new products that have been added to distributor lists in just the last six months. It is particularly stressful for retailers that are aware of the quest for the new products, whether a new whole wheat pretzel, a prepared dish with soy, new flavored sauce, or a new variety of couscous. There are many new snack foods in an already crowded snack aisle or flavored beverages in the shelf that often takes up the most space. The problem is compounded by the fact that most existing products have a stable customer base. Said a Queens NY retailer: “Who am I going to throw out to find out whether a new product can sell better than the product it has displaced?” Some stores are making arbitrary decisions, choosing new products that are heavily advertised or that already enjoy broad acceptance.” The retailer cited the Shibolim brand as an example. “I started out with one small display; now I have an end cap plus three shelves of the product. I cut out three flavored rice cakes to make room for the product.”
Retailers nowadays are much more accommodating to new products than in the past. Many of the products are quality items and as has been proven in the past, can add to the bottom line. New products helped the bottom line of many retailers this past Passover, although as is often the case, the products seldom survive the Passover season. What drives sales of new products, say the retailers, is the enormous interest by younger customers to experiment with new items. In many kosher sections throughout the country, an elaborate display of Sushi products has replaced other items.
By Menachem Lubinsky
New York…When all the numbers are in for kosher food sales, Passover 2010 may show an 8% – 10% increase, but there were some markets that were described as “soft.” In interviews with more than a dozen retailers, manufacturers and distributors, the big story appeared to be some of the subtle changes in the behavior of consumers. One noticeable trend was the move to healthier eating with more whole-wheat and spelt matzohs sold. The recession appeared to still have a hold on many customers as they avoided overbuying and shunned more expensive items. The grocery sources said they also noted a stronger demand for ingredient items, indicating more home-cooked items.
Sales were stronger in the New York area than they were in other parts of the country. Kosher sources say that natural growth and the addition of significant numbers of out of area guests contributed to a 12%-15% sales increase in some areas in New York. In some areas, new items again drove margins to offset losses on such loss leaders as Matzoh and grape juice. One Brooklyn retailer credited the calendar for his strong season “I love it when Shabbos is free-standing and in the middle of the holiday as it was this year, giving me three shopping spurts within the holiday. Sales of all categories of Matzoh were believed to flirt with the $90 million mark but some stores said that their biggest sales were not in specially produced Passover foods. One retailer said that he had sold a record number of full cases of potatoes, onions and eggs, as more families seemed to stay at home. But at the same time, operators of special hotel programs all over the country said that they had done far better this year than in the preceding two years, but were still shy of the numbers recorded in 2007. The market as a whole seemed to deal far better with the customary annual shortages than in the past, albeit that there were many reports of shortages of Matzoh, particularly whole wheat and gluten-free in the New York area.
Even those retailers that categorized their 2010 Passover sales as “soft” seemed to indicate that they had at least matched last year’s sales and one said that “he only realized a 2%-3% increase.” He blamed the weaker sales on the early Passover, which he says always effect his sales. Another retailer in the Midwest blamed the ongoing recession, while a retailer in the South said that every few years “there is an unexplained adjustment.” Distributors say that they believe that nationwide Passover sales will at least increase by 8%-10%.