Smart shoppers win Pesach price war

By Robyn Rosen and Cathy Forman, March 18, 2010
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Shoppers are the winners in a price war on Pesach essentials as kosher stores are meeting the competition from the major supermarket chains.

A JC investigation reveals that many stores have kept prices at last year's levels and used deals on matzah to lure customers through their doors. But independent retailers complain that they cannot compete with some supermarket specials.

Tesco fired the opening salvo by offering Israeli matzah at 29p a box. Although that deal ended last week, the supermarket - which is not supplied by Rakusen's after a pricing dispute - is now selling the matzah at 59p, down from 99p, and also has deals on wine and grape juice. A Tesco spokesman said the supermarket was "responding to the economic climate, offering great value, wider choice than ever and helping our customers spend less.

"We have doubled our grocery range, increased our chilled range by 50 per cent as well as increased our frozen range. In total, Tesco has launched over 200 brand new lines for Passover."

Yet other Pesach items cost susbstantially more at Tesco this year. Aviv matzah is up by 86p, Yorkshire teabags are almost £1 more and ground almonds are up by £1.62. However, comparisons can be skewed by past or current offers.

Richard Hyman, owner of Titanics in Manchester, said Tesco's 29p matzah offer had been potentially "catastrophic" for small businesses.

"I have worked very hard to try to keep the prices as close to last year as possible. We're providing a service and have to look after the community - and hope the community will also look after us."

At Rakusen's, a spokesman acknowledged that without the Tesco business, they would be selling less than last year, despite increased orders from smaller stores.

"We knew Tesco would go with a cheaper price [on matzah] to make an impression. Their price is obviously significantly below cost and will cost Tesco a lot of money."

In Golders Green, Kosher Kingdom is trading for Pesach once again, after being closed for more than a year because of a major fire.

The store has increased its Pesach range by 15 per cent and boss David Rokach claims most prices are similar to two years ago, attributing this to bulk buying and cutting profit margins.

"There is competition but the big supermarkets have a limited choice and only offer deals on selected items. It doesn't fill the whole basket. I've noticed slightly less matzah sales but I don't blame shoppers."

Customer Madeleine Bender from Kensal Rise said she used to shop at Tesco, "but they don't have much choice".

In Redbridge, the temporary Chabad shop in Gants Hill is offering competitive prices, with Chabad regional co-treasurer Brian Mitchell relishing his role as shopkeeper.

However, trading at the store - run by 30 volunteers with profits going to Chabad - had been affected by "the loss leaders by some of the supermarkets for a select range of items". Chabad could not "buy the products at the same price that the supermarkets are selling at".

Shopper Jackie Grant of Gants Hill welcomed Chabad's initiative - and prices such as Rakusen's matzah for 65p. "It's fantastic. I wish the shop was here all year round. It makes my life so much easier."

Welfare organisations are stocking up to help the many families in the community who cannot afford the cost of Pesach. For example, Gift will distribute meals to over 1,000 people during the festival week, 160 more than in 2009.

Gift director Michelle Barnett reported that "people are really struggling this year and need our help".

Costly l’chaim

Palwin number 10, the alcoholic staple of the British Seder table, is a significantly more costly tipple this year. At the Chabad shop in Redbridge, the wine is being sold at £7.29, compared to £4 last year. It is more elsewhere and Sainsbury’s have opted not to stock Palwin, instead offering Kedem kiddush wine at £4.11.

Adam Montefiore, wine development director at Carmel Wines, which produces Palwin, said that its price had not gone up and that increases on 2009 were down to individual retailers. “We recommend the price of £7.99 and it was the same last year.

I don’t think it was a fair price last year and must have been supermarkets’ loss leaders.”

Last updated: 12:25pm, March 19 2010