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The JC Comment Blog

The JC Comment Blog No.15 – Why is kosher food so expensive?

Political Editor Marcus Dysch eschews Westminster for a more important side of Jewish life

    There’s no denying the quality – and quantity – of kosher baked goods in Britain.

    Whether it’s a Daniel’s bagel you are after, or a Carmelli’s challah, maybe a Brackmans jammy dodger, there is plenty of choice for those who keep kosher.

    The major problem in my eyes is the price. Quite how stores can justify charging £2.50 or more for a challah, or even 60p for a single bagel, is beyond me.

    The steady rise in the cost of living in this country may be a factor, and certainly in the major conurbations which 90 per cent or more of British Jews call home, house prices and retail price index items have soared in the past 20 years.

    But kosher providers take the, er, biscuit.

    Given that firms such as Hovis, Warburtons and Kingsmill can produce hechshered loaves for between £1 and £1.50, the independent Jewish stores have a lot to answer for.

    Now I know you will immediately point out that those huge companies are mass-producing items for general sale that happen to be kosher – and it is to the credit of the London Beth Din and other supervising bodies that the range available has improved so substantially in recent years – but still, the mark-up in kosher stores must be extravagant.

    When you factor in the general misery associated with being a customer in the vast majority of kosher establishments in Britain – thanks to the rude staff and ruder fellow diners or shoppers  – the bottom line when you receive the bill is salt rubbed in the wound.

    Enter stage right, Rabbi Akiva Osher Padwa. Last December the Stamford Hill rabbi stunned kosher-keepers in London by assisting a local branch of Morrisons in selling 50p kosher doughnuts.

    Understandably the jammy treats – baked in store – flew off the shelves, complete as they were with Rabbi Padwa’s hechsher and the affordable price tag.

    He has now repeated the feat – bringing kosher bread rolls and finger rolls to shoppers in the same Morrisons stores over the weekend to mark the end of Pesach. Six rolls could be snapped up for 50p – a mere 300 per cent cheaper than you are likely to find in a kosher store.

    Rabbi Padwa is an impressive character and explained his globetrotting work to my colleague Victoria Prever last month.

    “I often sit with developers and designers or their technical staff and can discuss how to make their production compliant with kosher rules,” he told Victoria.

    Clearly his Morrisons initiative is one of his most successful in this country. The challenge is therefore obvious: Rabbi Padwa, his colleagues, or even a rival must find a way to roll out (excuse the pun) the bakery scheme more widely.

    Surely it is not beyond comprehension that major supermarkets in areas with substantial Jewish populations – Golders Green, Stamford Hill, Prestwich, Alwoodley etc – could offer store-made products on a regular basis.

    In many of these areas there are, inevitably, as many kosher-keeping Jewish customers who would purchase the goods as there are halal-eating Muslims who are exceptionally well catered for in similar terms.

    The argument made by supermarket chains in smaller communities that the demand does not exist for them to carry wider kosher ranges simply does not hold in the larger cities.

    We hear a lot from our religious bodies about their desire for more British Jews to keep kosher, and about their intent to make eating kosher food more affordable. There is, it seems to me, a blatant opportunity here for actions to speak louder than words.

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