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Baltimore, Md…by Tova Ross and Staff Reporters…While the nation’s largest independent kosher stores opened here last week, a leading supermarket chain in the area also announced a major expansion. Industry sources say that the Baltimore developments are part of the latest turf wars for the ever-expanding kosher market. With 55,000 square feet, Seven-Mile Market in Pikesville, will eclipse such large stores as Rockland Kosher and Pomegranate, two other independents that have become part of the new standard bearers for spacious upscale kosher supermarkets. Both Rockland Kosher and Seven Mile Markets face increased competition from supermarket chains that are not conceding the territory to the independents. In New City, just several miles from Rockland a new Stop and Shop is touting a magnificent kosher showcase while Giant’s two Pikesville stores dramatically increased their kosher offerings. Brian Beaty, Director of Marketing and External Communication for Giant, which is part of the mega Ahold chain, said that the two stores in the area added more than 500 items with 130’ of dry goods, 24’ of refrigerated foods, and 24’ of dairy. In addition, Shoppers, a part of SuperValu, is also said to be increasing its kosher set. Industry sources that this new competitive environment is “a reality that here is to stay.” In the case of Rockland Kosher, for example, the huge store will also face competition from a planned new Yesh store, part of Israel’s Shufersal chain, that is scheduled to open on the site of the former Pathmark.
The new Seven-Mile mega-center is not merely a typical supermarket; it includes several franchise stores within a store, including a café, pharmacy, fish store, and flower store, among others. New display items include a salad bar, an expanded bakery section, and soon, a sushi bar and bulk items section. Herschel Bohem, the store’s owner, told Kosher Today that the opening day was “very busy, with a lot of customers exploring every display and shopping the entire store. “ He added: “Many of the customers pointed to the spaciousness of the place, and its clean and modern look.” Rikki Ambinder, a Baltimore resident, was one of those who just had to make it for the store’s re-opening. “The store is so big that you get a workout just walking the many aisles,” she remarked. “They have a much bigger selection than they did previously and have added many new sections, including one I enjoyed that was dedicated just to health foods. They also have a new section within their meat department, containing fresh bison and other kosher meats. The store is spotless and clean, and there were so many cashiers that even though the store was bustling, the lines were minimal. I had a very positive experience there and can’t wait to continue shopping at such an amazing place that is kosher and all one-stop.” Eli Schlossberg, a Baltimore resident and a veteran food official and consultant says that the big challenge for Seven-Mile will be to attract area shopprers for more than the obligatory twice a year visits, before Rosh Hashanah and pre-Passover. Schlossberg helped produce a one-hour video on the store (www.baltimorejewishlife.com).
Tel Aviv…Has Israel become too small for Israel’s largest supermarket chains? It would seem that way from the recent buzz that both Supersol (Shufersal) owner Shulem Fisher and Co-Op owner Rami Mandel are expanding outside of Israel. Mandel has already gone public with his plans, announcing two years ago of plans to open as many as 10 stores in Jewish neighborhoods in the UK and the United States. Last week, Co-Op announced plans to open its first major kosher food supermarket in Moscow by the end of 2011 and then perhaps in St. Petersburg. The head of the Kashrut Department of the Chief Rabbinate of Russia, Rabbi Yosef Verzub, explained that this will be Russia’s first large kosher food supermarket.
Mr. Fisher has not as yet made his plans known but is said to seriously eye opening several stores in the US. The buzz began with the closing of the Pathmark store in Monsey, which sources say will be taken over in “some form” by Fisher. It was unclear whether the Monsey store would be modeled after the Yesh stores that cater to the Charedi (Orthodox) sector with bulk packages, discounted items, and other promotional programs geared for many of the large families that shop at some of the 53 Yesh stores. The sources also noted that the Fisher foray into Monsey will merely be the first of several stores the retailer plans to open. Ironically, the Super-Sol name, which was not affiliated with Israel’s largest chain, will soon disappear in the US. The first of four Super-Sol stores in Queens and Manhattan is set to open in Kew Garden Hills early next year under the name Seasons.
Secaucus, NJ…Most new kosher products never make it onto supermarket shelves, a survey of food industry officials visiting last month’s Kosherfest showed. But the distributors also said that new kosher products still fare significantly better than non-kosher products. As many as 95 percent of new products introduced each year fail, according to Cincinnati research agency AcuPoll. Despite the odds, hundreds of kosher products continue to be introduced and for those that make it, the pay-off appears to be extremely good. Marketing officials say that new products fail for a variety of reasons including quality of product, lack of marketing support, poor timing, inadequate shelf space, and poorly conceived packaging. Nearly half of products that won awards in Kosherfest’s New Product Competition in the past two years did make it in some form, say the distributors albeit in only some distribution channels. A winning product might, for example, find its way to a number of independent kosher grocers but not in supermarkets. ”It’s all about space,” said one distributor, who pointed to a frozen item. “This product will have a much better chance in a 40-50 freezer door store than in a 20.” At least one official mentioned the recession as a barrier for gourmet products that are more costly.
Looking ahead to 2011, food marketers see more new products that will use less sodium, sugar and high fructose corn syrup, a reduction in the popularity of natural and organic, more hybrid products, and increased use of retro as a way to make consumers feel more comfortable. There is a good chance that next year’s crop of new product introductions at Kosherfest will reflect some of these changes and the fact that 50% of Kosherfest’s New Product Competition winners make onto supermarket shelves should encourage the industry to continue to produce innovative new kosher items.
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.