Tesco's secret weapon

Victoria Prever meet Gershon Odze, the kosher food buyer for the country's biggest supermarket chain

April 11, 2011

Gershon Odze is an unlikely food hero. He does not cook much - maybe the odd spaghetti bolognese or roast chicken. He is quiet, unassuming and Orthodox. He had a religious education outside of the mainstream UK schooling system and has no formal qualifications. After his education he went into computer sales; if your laptop needs a rebuild, he is your man.

As Tesco's kosher food buyer, he is also one of the most powerful men in Jewish food, deciding what kosher products make it on to the shelves of the UK's biggest supermarket chain.

Odze launched Tesco's Passover range at the Borehamwood store last month. The range is bigger than ever. Hechshered own-label Passover products are in 53 UK stores.

Odze did actually spend time in the food industry after his computer days, at Mehadrin Wholesale. There he learned sales, buying, product development and logistics. After five years he was ready for something new. He applied for the job at Tesco when it was advertised last year.

What Tesco was looking for was religious knowledge and experience, someone who understood their Jewish customers' needs in detail - that Passover is more than matzah, that four cups of Kiddush wine are drunk during each Seder service, and that although Jews keep kosher for Passover, they still want the same value products. Odze fit the bill perfectly - he is an insider, he knows Jewish eating habits, festival customs and tastes.

He oversees every part of the process of sourcing kosher products. It can be quite intricate - the concentrate for Tesco own-label apple juice comes from China and is shipped to Ireland for packing. At each stage of its journey to the shelf, a shomer is present to ensure it fulfils the Kedassia kosher for Passover criteria. Kedassia, Manchester Beth Din and London Beth Din shomrim fly around the world supervising food manufacturers.

Odze and his fellow tasters sampled Tesco's Passover smoked salmon alongside many of the leading kosher smoked salmon brands at Tesco's Cheshunt head office. He says that they chose a mild smoke and added sugar to the recipe to give the salmon the traditional flavour. He grew up eating smoked salmon and knows what to aim for.

In fact, Odze's upbringing gave him an appreciation of all types of Jewish food, with his Sephardi mother serving her traditional dishes alongside the Ashkenazi fare enjoyed by his father. A typical Shabbat meal might have consisted of a spicy fish dish followed by cholent.

He now confesses to a preference for Sephardi flavours but there is no doubt his background leaves him well qualified to make the decisions that will impact on the mealtimes of thousands of Jewish homes - even if he isn't a cook.

Last updated: 4:37pm, April 11 2011