Kosher traders wage a Pesach price war

By Ben Jaglom and Jessica Elgot, April 2, 2009
Trolley good show: Paul and Nicola Varley from Hale do their Pesach shopping in north Manchester

Trolley good show: Paul and Nicola Varley from Hale do their Pesach shopping in north Manchester

Budget conscious shoppers may be turning to the big supermarket chains to cut their Pesach bills. But a JC food basket survey of mainstream and specialist retailers this week shows that kosher outlets are competitive on many items.

Tesco has been enticing customers with “buy one, get one free offers” on essentials such Rakusen’s matzah. Sainsbury’s has responded by selling the matzah at half-price. Yet the cheapest Rakusen’s matzah in our survey is on offer for 47p at the Pesach shop opened by Chabad in Redbridge to cover for the lack of a local kosher grocery store.

The Sainsbury’s total is less than in our 2008 survey and the Tesco bill also compares favourably. Only Just Kosher in Borehamwood and Titanics in Manchester stocked the full 19 items.

In Golders Green on Tuesday, customers explained their preference for the major retailers. One woman said she was “very impressed” by their Pesach goods selections and would go to a kosher shop only to buy something she could not find elsewhere. A male shopper pointed out that parking was an important issue. “It can sometimes be difficult to get a spot in Golders Green, but I know that when I go to Tesco, I’ll definitely be able to find a space without worrying about a parking ticket.”

A contrasting view was offered by Gideon Gold, 49, from Cricklewood, who maintained “that nothing can beat the variety in products that you find in the kosher businesses. Also, I know that all the staff will understand what I mean when I say chametz or a word that a non-Jewish person might not grasp.”

With the temporary closure of Kosher Kingdom in Golders Green following a fire, other north-west London retailers are experiencing increased custom. This was the case at Kay’s in Golders Green, where a manager said: “In the past people bought from Tesco thinking they are the cheapest based on one or two products. But overall, if you compare a shopping trolley from us with a shopping trolley from Tesco, we have the better deal.” Although imported items had become more expensive because of the falling pound, “we have tried to minimise the additional cost to the consumer”.

In Redbridge, trade was brisk at Chabad’s makeshift premises on Monday evening — the shop is opening until 10pm. Chabad treasurer turned shopkeeper Brian Mitchell was thoroughly enjoying his new role as one of a team of volunteers, pointing out that not paying staff kept prices low. And profits would benefit Chabad. “It’s been so well received, even by non-Jews,” he reported. “I’ve had to restock three or four times.”

Customer Doreen Coram of Gants Hill welcomed the venture, adding: “The price of food for Pesach doesn’t make a difference to me. I’ll eat it even after Pesach ends.”

Hilary Pepperman from Chigwell confessed to sometimes buying from supermarkets “because it is a little bit cheaper. But they don’t always have everything you want. It’s good value here, convenient and there’s a lot of choice.”

At Just Kosher, however, director Yesha Hotter was feeling the impact of the local Tesco, which is stocking an extensive kosher range. “Tesco have definitely had a negative effect on sales. They have their flagship [Pesach] store in Borehamwood and are able to offer two-for-one deals and offers on prices that we simply cannot match.”

Rakusen’s expects to sell 400,000 boxes of Pesach matzah this year, broadly in line with 2008. But as the recession deepens, more people are turning to charity organisations for help with the festival basics.

Chaya Spitz, director of Interlink, the umbrella organisation for the Charedi voluntary sector, explained that “for people on low incomes, it is possible to just about survive all year. However, when Pesach comes around, the extra cost of food forces many into debt. For the first time we have seen people who have been affluent their whole lives forced into seeking financial assistance so that they can buy what they need for Pesach.”

At Gift, providing food to the disadvantaged, director Michelle Barnett said it had located food boxes in schools and shops for donations for those most in need.

“Since the credit crunch there has been an explosion in the numbers of people needing our services. We work with over 100 families, mostly in north-west London. We have come across people who have been forced to survive on social security following the loss of a job and who go home to empty cupboards. It is particularly important we help those living in the most vulnerable of circumstances.”

Leeds Jewish Welfare Board chief executive Rebecca Weinberg said the festival was often a challenging time for those in difficult circumstances. “Many people have experienced family breakdown or homelessness. When this happens Pesach can create painful feelings of depression and loneliness, so we try and organise communal Seders for those feeling most vulnerable.”

The cost of our Pesach basket

Last updated: 3:21pm, April 2 2009