Customers are in pocket as stores wage a price war
North-west Londoners admit that price is the biggest factor when shopping for their Pesach provisions, even if means favouring the big supermarkets over their local kosher stores.
But specialist retailers say they are remaining competitive, with the additional virtues of a greater product range and more knowledgeable staff.
Shopping in Sainsbury's in Golders Green, housewife Marilyn Levy, 46, said: "I buy the specialist stuff in the Jewish-owned shops but I do get the good deals in supermarkets. At this time of year you have to watch what you're spending. It's a huge extra expense. I can imagine for some it's a real worry."
If kosher stores were matching the big players on price, "I don't know about it".
For Israeli student Yigal Roth, cost was largely the reason he did not replace his entire food cupboard at Pesach. "In an ideal world, maybe I would. But right now, I just buy matzah when I am in the supermarket. It's a symbolic thing for me."
Every year I spend more when I mean to spend less
Computer engineer David Morris, 30, said he tried to do most of his shopping in stores such as Yarden and Kosher Kingdom on Golders Green Road. But it was hard to resist the cheap deals on matzah and other Pesach essentials which the supermarkets could offer. "Sainsbury's is charging 59p per box of matzah and I don't see how local shops can compete with that. Because you have to buy a lot of it, you want it to be cheap.
"I want to shop in the kosher stores because of the choice. But sometimes that means you end up spending a lot of money. Every year I seem to spend more when I mean to spend less."
Norman Teiman, whose daughters run the Yarden store, said the smaller shops had to keep prices of Pesach essentials competitive to retain custom.
"We've owned this shop for 16 years. We've had to modernise a lot. We have put everything online, which means people can do the shopping earlier. We price-check all our competitors to make sure we offer value for money. There are times when we can't compete, but on most items we can.
"But what we can concentrate on is choice and a personal service. We have got a range of more than 200 kosher wines, for example. Supermarkets can't compete with us on that. And we are here for the Jewish community for life, not just for Pesach. I think people really have the impression that the supermarkets are cheaper when it's not really much different."
At Kosher Kingdom, staff spent three days restocking the shelves for the Pesach range.
A store manager stressed the supermarket's price-consciousness. "Any discount we get we pass on to the customer. But some supermarkets must be making a loss on some of the products they are selling at their very cheapest." Kosher Kingdom is running a scratch card promotion, with shoppers spending more than £75 eligible for prizes and Pesach discounts.
"We try to do fun things that the supermarkets don't do. We offer a very personal service. Staff can advise about what has kitniyot [prohibited ingredients for Ashkenazim]. Everything is very clearly labelled. Supermarkets barely know what kosher is and they can even mix the Pesach and non-Pesach products together. But mainly we concentrate on having the very best range."
The festival is big business for Leeds-based Rakusen's, which expects to shift 500,000 boxes of matzah for the Pesach market, despite its matzah not being stocked by Tesco.
Around half is for UK consumers, the rest going to Europe, South Africa, America and Australia.
Managing director Alan Pridmore said three-quarters of UK sales were through major supermarkets.
In smaller communities, Chabad supplies many households with kosher for Pesach food, also helping to prepare Sedarim.
"Our shop in Ilford is volunteer-run to keep costs down," Chabad's Rabbi Bentzi Sudak pointed out. "It delivers to people in an area stretching from Southend to Cambridge. For people who might not know where to have a Seder, we run a listing service on our website, listing all communal Sedarim and similar services."
In Chabad's newest London base in Islington, Rabbi Mendy Korer will deliver matzah to the local community. Rabbi Mendel Cohen will run a communal Seder for 50 people and kosher the kitchens at Stepney Jewish Day Centre.
Jews coming from the US to study at central London universities often struggle during Pesach, said Bill Sheasgreen, director of the Ithaca study abroad programme in London.
"Students in South Kensington come from the States expecting this part of London to be the same as New York, teeming with Jewish people.
"They get to the place and discover they are one of 10 or 20 Jewish students in their group and most of the Jewish students are not 'active'. Come Pesach they don't know what to do. Last year students did Seder alone in their dorm room." Now around 300 students attend the local Chabad Seder, run by Rabbi Mendy Loewenthal.
In Solihull, Chabad's Rabbi Yehuda Pink reported that matzah was distributed to around 120 families. "We also organise a communal Seder for about 60 people as well as answering numerous phone calls and emails from people seeking advice on how to prepare for Pesach or organise a Seder.
"We have a model Seder before Pesach for children and their parents to give them a hands-on experience."