The kosher consumer is changing and, as a result, so are retailers.
While supermarkets are still focusing on the traditional kosher shopper, they're also catering to the "contemporary" segment. The latter customers are younger and seeking a greater variety of upscale foods and convenient products.
Contemporary kosher shoppers aren't necessarily young people, but are third- or fourth-generation Jewish-Americans, said Phillip Brown, category manager for kosher foods at Ralphs Grocery Co., Compton, Calif.
"Yes, we have addressed the 'contemporary kosher' issue," Brown said.
To do so, the retailer introduced a variety of new items: frosted flakes; chocolate chip cookie dough; banana split, vanilla blueberry, chocolate raspberry and cookies 'n cream macaroons; soft taco mix, tortilla chips and Mexican sauces; instant pudding; bite-size grape matzoh; "matzanolas" (an imitation of granola bars -- chocolate coated, with chocolate chips and marshmallows); white fish in tangy tomato sauce; and chocolate truffles.
With Passover beginning on the evening of April 21 and lasting for eight days, now is the peak selling period for kosher products. Retailers traditionally begin stocking a larger assortment of kosher foods six weeks before the holiday begins.
The kosher market has experienced both enormous growth and demographic changes over the last 10 years, said Menachem Lubinsky, president of Integrated Marketing Communications, New York, a firm specializing in kosher food.
"This year we have many new products to choose from," he continued, "And no one will recognize the shelf from what it was a year ago."
More items are geared toward the younger generation looking for foods that are easy to prepare, Lubinsky said.
"For example, there's cereal that you just add hot water to, or the traditional cup-of-soup, which is brand new this year," said Sam Wilk, vice president of ABC Specialty Foods, which supplies about 100 stores in the St. Louis area, including units of Schnuck Markets, St. Louis; National Tea Co., Hazelwood, Mo.; Dierbergs Markets, Chesterfield, Mo.; and Shop 'N Save Warehouse Foods, Kirkwood, Mo.
Similarly, Loblaw Cos., Toronto, has President's Choice box pasta available, along with kosher-for-Passover ethnic foods, herbal teas and Kakabaka pasta water -- a pouch seasoning that is put in boiling water to flavor pasta.
Several retailers also mentioned that while gefilte fish is still popular, younger customers are gravitating toward other kinds of fish, especially tuna.
Along with contemporary Jewish customers, retailers are paying attention to other types of new kosher consumers, such as vegetarians, Muslims and the health-conscious. These customers are also entering the kosher category in greater numbers.
Followers of Islam must adhere to some of the same dietary restrictions as Jews, and they often buy kosher.
"Typically, people from the Middle East are leery of American food production and tend to gravitate toward kosher," Brown noted. "They have a higher level of confidence in kosher food -- that no lard will be used in these products."
Vegetarians and the health-conscious will buy kosher for the same reason, and because they perceive kosher foods as having fewer preservatives.
Vegans (vegetarians who also avoid dairy) and the lactose-intolerant will also gravitate toward the kosher aisle.
"If you are trying to be dairy-free, you look for the kosher symbol and the pareve symbol, and you know for sure the product is [safe]," said Chris Volner, gourmet and specialty foods manager for Byerly's, Edina, Minn.
Although retailers are clearly aware that new, non-Jewish customers are entering the kosher category, they are still catering to core patrons, both traditional and contemporary.
"We are aware [of new customers]," said Volner, "But we are still concentrating on our main customers, especially in neighborhoods where's there's a large Jewish clientele.
"In our St. Louis Park store, we are expanding our stockkeeping units for Passover from 300 to 400," he continued. "We're trying to take care of the kosher customer first. Any other business we do get is perceived as a bonus."
Nick Ruggiero, grocery merchandiser for Loblaw, agreed.
"Right now we are trying to capture the core group with promotions, and we're introducing new items to create an awareness that we have a fine selection," he said.
Kosher-for-Passover items are certified differently than everyday kosher food. In addition, food for Passover cannot be mixed with other items, even other kosher items, either in people's homes or on the supermarket shelves. So the stores merchandise kosher-for-Passover in a separate section.
"Our first displays went up on Feb. 24 in the high-volume kosher stores," said Brown of Ralphs. "A front-end display or section of the floor is set aside. In stores with large displays, we use two or three endcaps and put a white cloth covering on whatever [the items] will be sitting on."
Ruggiero said, "We strip the shelves and leave them bare for a few days, so customers can see we are preparing. We wash the shelves, and some stores put down white shelf paper."
Loblaw has one promotional aisle -- about 200 linear feet -- of kosher-for-Passover in high-volume stores, in addition to pallet drops in the middle of the aisle. Everyday kosher items stay in their usual place.
The stores decorate the Passover aisle with 3-by-6-foot banners captioned, "Shop All Your Passover Favorites." Kosher-for-Passover fills about seven endcaps in high-volume Byerly's stores.
A kosher buyer for a Midwestern chain, who did not want to be identified, told SN that kosher-for-Passover fills a whole aisle in stores catering to a large Jewish clientele.
"We've selected about nine stores that we put in a cluster group," he said.
All the retailers SN contacted advertise their kosher items in Jewish newspapers, as well as in store flyers. "We run discounts on popular staples, like Manischewitz five-pack matzoh, pike and white fish, and Bartonette's almond kisses," Volner said.
"We haven't really had to promote [Passover], since people know they will find what they need and will find the best selection [at Byerly's]," he said.
"More traditional items -- like matzoh, fish, macaroons, cake mixes and borscht -- are being heavily promoted," said Wilk of ABC Specialty Foods.
Loblaw will advertise special prices on matzohs, jams, grape juice, Coke, matzoh farfel, matzoh meal, chicken soup, flake bars, macaroons, horseradish, pickles, and gefilte fish, all in the staples category.
"We want to make sure items are priced right," said Ruggiero. Loblaw reviews prices every year, and takes into account both the competition and customer perceptions. Both Ruggiero and other retailers said that margins tend to be slim on Passover staples, which are also the heavily promoted items.
"We try to give a really good deal on matzoh," said Brown of Ralphs.
ABC's Wilk also mentioned that stores advertise and provide deals on Passover staples, but they concentrate more on getting the word out that they have a wide selection.
That's why the stores make sure they have hot, new items as well as premium specialty items that are generally available only during the Passover season.
Buyers of Kosher Products (millions)
The number of core Jewish consumers is increasing, but so is the number of other buyers, which include Muslims, vegetarians, and the health-conscious and lactose-intolerant.