Specialist shops take on the big guns in a Pesach price war

By Jay Grenby, April 4, 2008
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Consumers gain as kosher shops respond to huge reductions on key items in major supermarkets

Matzahs are in the front line as supermarkets and specialist kosher retailers wage a Pesach price war this month, offering substantial savings to those prepared to shop around.

A JC investigation reveals that a basket of Passover essentials will cost only marginally more than last year — and in some cases, less.

Tesco is particularly price competitive, with the 18 items surveyed in a North London store costing £28.02 this year, 13p down on 2007. The store is enticing customers with offers including a half-priced box of Rakusen’s matzahs (49p) and 65p jars of Mrs Elswood cucumbers. A bottle of Palwin No 10 wine is being sold for under a fiver.

One leading Golders Green retailer is so incensed by what he considers unfair practice that he is considering removing the Rakusen’s matzahs on Tesco offer from his shelves.

Other stores have found a cunning way of competing, with one North-West London shop owner admitting that he, and others, have bought the 49p boxes from Tesco for reselling in their own businesses. “It is perfectly permissible,” he maintained, “as long as we don’t abuse the rule of acquiring more than one case per customer — though I do have a big family!”

Rakusen’s denies offering a special deal to Tesco, with a director, Alan Pridmore, telling the JC that it was “unable to influence the price of our products on any supermarket shelf. We do sympathise with the problems of smaller retailers, but is a situation not of our making.”

Tesco argues that it is trying to offer customers the best value. “Remember that we are talking about one or maybe two products here — it’s not as though we were slashing prices across the whole range,” a spokesman said. “I would be very surprised if a half-price promotion, available for a limited time only, had any lasting impact on independent retailers.”

However, not all small shopkeepers were worried by Tesco’s aggressive pricing. At Just Kosher in Borehamwood, Avi Hotter reasoned that “customers will shop where they know they will get service and a full product range. We have more than 3,500 different kosher l’Pesach lines on our website. None of the supermarkets can match that.”

These sentiments were echoed by Stephen Rosenhead of Steve’s Deli in Stanmore. “Anyone who wants to keep kosher for Pesach and wants to do a complete Pesach shop can’t do it at Tesco, who don’t have the range of products to meet their needs. On a whole basket of Pesach products, I think we are still competitive.”

In our survey, Manchester-based Titanics — which delivers throughout the North and beyond — came in at a highly competitive £28.84 for the full 19-item basket. But delivery charges would be extra.

Savvy consumers can cut their budgets by combining supermarket offers with special offers in kosher shops. For example, a litre of sunflower oil in Just Kosher is 40p cheaper than in Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

Joining the Pesach shoppers on Wednesday, the JC found Rabbi Maurice Michaels stocking up at Kosher Kingdom in Golders Green Road. He had made the journey, he said, because of a lack of kosher options in Ilford. He said that he would not be tempted by the Tesco price cuts as he was not a fan of Rakusen’s matzahs.

Also in Golders Green, regulars at Kay’s delicatessen were loyal to their store. “I wouldn’t go to Tesco,” Renée Eckstin insisted. “I buy everything here. Luckily I am away for Pesach this year. It is an expensive time.”

Staff explained that efforts were made to peg prices by selling matzahs at 75p. “That’s cost price.”

However, the Tesco Express in Golders Green has only a limited kosher section. Duty manager Pragnesh Patel said a plea had gone out to head office for more supplies. “Much of the Jewish community shop here and people buy in bulk so we are losing out on business. They will just go to Kosher Kingdom instead.”

It was a different story at the big Brent Cross Tesco, where the Pesach offers are prominently displayed. A single case (15 boxes) limit was being enforced on family packs of matzahs. Shoppers milling around the price-cut items were phoning friends and family to ask if they should buy in bulk.

Rosalind Eger said that it was well worth travelling from Ealing. “I am amazed at the prices here and I am stocking up.”

Customer-services manager Billy Khan reported heavy demand and was already looking to the end of the festival. On Monday April 28, the store will open at 12.01pm so that customers can stock-up on post-Pesach necessities.

    Last updated: 5:00pm, June 3 2008