The head of the London Beth Din’s kashrut division has denied that higher prices at Pesach are a result of increased supervision costs for festival items.
“Generally we do not charge a fee for Pesach products,” Rabbi Jeremy Conway said.
“If somebody decides they’re going to produce some biscuits or cakes for Pesach, we wouldn’t make any charge other than for the shomer they have to have in place.
“Very often they have a shomer there during the year as well, so there’s no extra cost.
“But if they don’t have [a shomer] or produce it by batch, then we would charge for the cost of the shomer, which would be something like £20 an hour or £200 a day, so maximum we’re not talking about huge figures.”
Rabbi Conway also discussed the decline in British manufacture of kosher for Passover products, making reference to a well-known kosher bakery which “used to kasher for Pesach and produce their own range of cakes and biscuits. Eventually they stopped doing it. They told me ‘it’s just not worthwhile’.”
He pointed out that according to tradition, Ashkenazi Jews do not bake with flour for Pesach, using matzah meal instead.
“The famous substitute ingredients like ground almonds and desiccated coconut, chocolate, sugar, are many times more expensive than flour.
“This baker told me his calculation is that the ingredients for Pesach cost 15 times the normal price. A cake is 95 per cent flour normally, so it’s very, very cheap. And if he sells it for three or four pounds, there’s a great element of profit.
“We did an exercise and had a look at what ground almonds cost — not for Pesach, just from Tesco today —and what flour costs from Tesco today. The ground almonds are 28 times the price. And they [manufacturers] don’t put the price of Pesach cakes up by 28 times. They may double it or triple it. And the poor manufacturer gets a whole host of complaints. The truth of the matter is that the profit element on a regular cake is much greater than the profit element on a Pesach cake.
“Now you’ve got cakes coming from Osem in Israel and from America, local manufacturers just can’t compete. So there is very little in terms of finished products which are made in the UK.
Rabbi Conway cited another example of a well known preserves company “who for decades made products for Pesach. Last year they didn’t produce. They don’t do them anymore.”
For a market of half a per cent of the national population “is it worth your while for these extra few hundred, even few thousand jars of jam? It’s not the cost of shomer, it’s the hassle of the cleaning process and the change of ingredients.
“In years gone by, that company had the market, there was no competition.
“Now other jams have come in from Israel and America and France, so it’s not worthwhile for them to manufacture.”