Kosher competition

Rabbi Levi Raskin creates chocolate animals and challah.
Rabbi Levi Raskin creates chocolate animals and challah.                                Photo by Melissa Apter

Seeking a bigger bite of the kosher market, Safeway recently decided to beef up its kosher offerings in its 125 supermarkets located throughout Maryland, Northern Virginia, the District of Columbia and Delaware.

Safeway will not add designated kosher areas in its stores. Instead, kosher items will be located throughout the stores “in all the departments,” said Craig Muckle, public affairs manager for Safeway.

The number of supermarkets that carry not much more than boxes of matzah and bottles of Manischewitz grape juice in their kosher sections is dwindling. Now, at a minimum, an array of kosher meats is sold in many grocery stores, and more and more stores are carrying kosher products not only for Passover, but throughout the year.

Kosher shoppers continue to flock to the Costco that opened in April 2013 in the Westfield Wheaton mall.

Shoppers there are greeted by large red signs which point out where kosher items can be found. The store, which features a kosher bakery, is popular with Orthodox families who have many children and prefer purchasing their meats, chickens, frozen foods and other foods in bulk.

Larry Dekelbaum, owner of Shalom Kosher in the Kemp Mill Shopping Center in Silver Spring nearby, is acutely aware of the increased competition.

“Sure it affects us, definitely,” he said. Because a greater number of stores are offering kosher products, Dekelbaum strives “to be as competitive as possible” when it comes to pricing. But Dekelbaum believes his store’s best asset in answering the ever-increasing competition is to offer everything needed in a well-stocked kosher kitchen under one roof.

“We try to make it so people only have to come here and not go to several stores,” he said.

Safeway has pledged to beef up its kosher offerings. Photo by Melissa Apter
Safeway has pledged to beef up its kosher offerings. Photo by Melissa Apter

The store also carries a large selection of kosher wines and will be showing off its international wines during a wine and cheese tasting event before the High Holidays, on Sept. 3 from 5 to 8:30 p.m.

Trader Joe’s also sports a kosher wine selection, and Washingtonian Susan Barocas, a food writer and caterer who founded the Jewish Food Experience, tends to buy her kosher wine and desserts there. She purchases other kosher food at Brookville Market in Cleveland Park, which she said has “a lovely selection of kosher cheeses.”

However, she said, she believes that a kosher cake from a supermarket is not as good as one prepared at an all-kosher facility, like the Kosher Pastry Oven in the Kemp Mill Shopping Center.

It’s a toss-up, Barocas said. She wants to support her local stores, and it’s also important to spend money in locally owned grocery stores like Shalom Kosher and Moti’s Market in Rockville.

“People who shop at Shalom and Moti’s are very loyal. People want to support them,” Barocas said.

But those all-kosher stores aren’t conveniently located for everyone, said Rabbi Levi Raskin, co-director Chabad of Aspen Hill, who, along with other Chabad rabbis, met with a representative from Safeway several months ago to try to bring more kosher products into the store.

“Shalom, it’s a 20-minute drive” from Aspen Hill, Raskin said. While Safeway “is not going to be a Shalom,” it is a good thing that kosher products can be found in many stores, he said.

Following the meeting, Raskin said Safeway agreed to expand its kosher selections as an experiment at about a dozen of its stores in the Maryland area.

“Aspen Hill was one of those chosen,” Raskin said of the Safeway on Norbeck Road.

The Aspen Hill store also was open to holding The Great Kosher Chocolate Factory.

More than 50 people made and ate chocolate foods during a program last Sunday led by Raskin, who is the also the director of JCrafts, a mobile project of Chabad-Lubavitch of Maryland. Through JCrafts, Raskin has been conducting kosher chocolate demonstrations throughout the summer, but the recent event was the first one held inside a supermarket, he said.

Safeway officials appear just as excited as many of the people who attended the chocolate factory workshop, and spokesman Muckle said his grocery chain aims to be a mecca for kosher products.

It currently offers a minor selection of kosher products in its area stores, but “we really have not done as effective a job as we may have in meeting the needs” of Jewish shoppers, Muckle said. “Honestly, the Jewish community is a significant part of [the Mid-Atlantic] region.”

Kosher products not offered at Safeway before, which Muckle said he couldn’t list because he didn’t want other grocery stores to know in advance, will soon occupy its shelves. “You are going to continue to see more and more of it this year,” and also during 2016, he said of the additional kosher offerings.

“We are looking into adding a mashgiach (kosher supervisor) in each store” in 2016, he said. “We want to serve as many people as possible, and this is an opportunity for us to expand,” he said.

To Barocas, it’s all good. With the increasing number of stores carrying kosher products, “I certainly know that people who are kosher are having an easier time of it.”

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