WHY ARE Pesach FOOD PRICES SO HIGH?

(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hamodia reporters researched three major centers– in the U.S., U.K., and Israel – to find out.

NEW YORK – Pesach Price Check $

by Ben Zion Wolff

The annual changeover begins the day after Purim, when food products are moved, shelves are lined, and the new line of Pesach products take the place of the candies and cookies which were set out for Purim. It may be a month before Pesach, but the shopkeepers are busy preparing for the onslaught of the upcoming Pesach season.

Although prices of some staples fluctuate during the year, the majority of food items have stabilized and are not expected to rise due to market forces, says the proprietor of a kosher supermarket on Coney Island Avenue in Midwood. “We had a spike in egg prices last year, when Pesach coincided with the secular holidays, and there was a shortage of eggs nationwide. That led to prices rising to almost four dollars a dozen, or $100 per case. But generally, the amount of eggs purchased by our community for Pesach does not have much of an impact on prices across the country. The price per dozen, while no longer 79¢ as it was in the past, is expected to remain at about one dollar or so, or in the mid-$30s for a case, which is where it was throughout the year.”

Eggs and other commodities, which must be bought fresh and have an expiration date, are directly impacted by a variety of market forces. For this reason, it is almost impossible to speculate where the prices will be in a week from now, as prices fluctuate constantly. But at this time, according to proprietors of several food stores contacted by Hamodia, there is nothing to suggest that we should experience a similar spike to last year’s.

Dairy items are a mixed bag this season. Yanky, the proprietor of Blue Ribbon on Avenue J, told Hamodia that prices for dairy products are varied. “While milk and sliced cheese are not more expensive, other dairy products have risen. Our customers are sometimes surprised when we raise the prices on these basics, and we try to keep them in check. But when the costs rise, we are forced to pass this along.”

Most items which are available year-round are not more expensive for Pesach. “Since they are products which are used throughout the year, I can always sell them later, and that helps control the price,” Yanky of Blue Ribbon told Hamodia. “Specialized products which are made for Pesach might be more expensive, since they are prepared in a limited run.”

When asked if people who are gluten-free might purchase these Pesach items after Yom Tov, both store owners seemed to agree that they should consider the availability after Yom Tov. “If you are gluten-free and really need something, it is recommended to buy it before Pesach while it is still available, because afterwards it may be sold out. But if it is just an item which you might want, you can take your chance on getting it cheaper at a later time.”

Pesach supplies on grocery shelves in Brooklyn.

There are some products made for Pesach which have an extended season due to the gluten-free market. “In the past,” says Simchy Friedman of Super 13 in Boro Park, “the ketchup made for Pesach was useless after Pesach. Now, they print the words ‘gluten free’ in larger print than the words ‘Kosher L’Pesach’, since it will be sold after Pesach for those seeking gluten-free products. This, in turn, helps lower the price slightly on these products. By now, just about 70 percent of the products we sell for Pesach are available year-round for gluten-free consumers.”

One area where costs have risen over the years is fresh and frozen vegetables, which need special processing due to insect infestation. “People must realize that where in the past a package of frozen vegetables was in the range of a dollar, today, with the special processing needed to avoid infestation, a package of broccoli may be in the six-dollar range,” says one Flatbush grocer. “There is little we can do to control the cost, since it involves special growing conditions.”

Yanky of Blue Ribbon recommends that consumers check the prices on the various brands of vegetables. “Some brands cost more than others, and consumers should examine the prices if they wish to purchase a slightly less expensive brand.”

In order to help their customers, these storekeepers work hard to find areas where they can offer specials. “We know that our customers are tight on money this time of year, and we try hard to find some way to give them a break,” says one Flatbush grocer. “We lower the prices on some items, and this way we remain competitive with the larger supermarkets. All in all, when the customers finish their purchases, they generally find that we gave them prices which are comparable.”

When discussing comparative pricing, Yanky shares an interesting point. “A 50-pound box of potatoes retails for approximately $20. If a store is selling it below $10, they are selling below cost in order to draw in the customers. This is something I cannot compete with. But the Eibershter gives parnassah, and I work to press my suppliers to give me the best prices I can get for my own customers.”

Simchy Friedman reminds us that many items which we use come from China, and there is an ongoing trade dispute, which causes the prices to rise. “Aluminum pans coming from China have a tariff, so the cost has risen accordingly. Many paper goods which we sell come from China as well. Even some food products, such as tilapia, flounder and many canned goods are manufactured in China. As our costs from the suppliers rise, the consumer, too, ends up paying more for these products.”

The bulk of the rise in costs, according to all the store owners, is the increase in wages for personnel. “The minimum wage has risen to $15 per hour, and overtime costs $22.50 per hour. Especially around this time of year, when there is a need to turn over our stores and handle the increased volume of orders, we have to share these costs with our customers. Nevertheless, we can honestly say that we do our best to save in other areas in order to keep the prices as low as possible for our loyal customers.”

Yanky and Simchy agree and add, “It’s not only our increased costs for our workers. Our suppliers, too, are experiencing additional costs for their employees, and they raise their prices accordingly. So, there is a double rise in costs due to the government wage regulations, and we have to pass this along to our customers in some way just to break even.”

Simchy of Super 13 notes that they have a special Pesach store which gives the customers the peace of mind that there is no chametz at all in the store. The cost of preparing the store by cleaning it for two weeks, lining the shelves and staffing it with additional workers, all at the higher wages, add up to a substantial amount of money. “Despite the cost and tirchah of running the second store, we keep the prices the same. We really try to keep everything reasonable, since we understand the costs for the families.”

Order selection and delivery is another area where stores compete to satisfy their regular customers. “With my steady clients, I can practically fill their orders all by myself,” Mrs. Safser, a Flatbush storekeeper says. “This human touch helps us keep our customers, but once again, with the rise in wages, it costs us more than before. Nevertheless, we found that some customers who we service all year tell us that they understand how busy we are this season, and they come in to put together their orders by themselves. So, the relationship we have with our customers is more than a business relationship, and they trust us that we are doing our best to keep the prices as low as possible.”

One way to scrimp on costs is to economize on the cost of storage containers parked outdoors in the street. “In past years, we rented a trailer and arranged a permit to allow us to stock extra merchandise. In our neighborhood, they only allow us to have the trailer for 12 to 15 days, and the cost is prohibitive,” Mr. Safser tells Hamodia. “The rental and the permits cost between $1,500 to $2,000, and that had to be factored in. This year, we were able to store all our merchandise in our available space, so the savings help us keep Yom Tov prices a bit lower.”

Yet when all is said and done, there are still some families which have difficulty purchasing what they need for Yom Tov. “There are cases where we notice that some families have avoided coming to the store because they still owe on their bill from last month. At times, we fill their order and deliver it, which is our way of performing chessed,” Mrs. Safser related. “We had instances where people sent money and asked us to apply it to the account of a family in need. A woman living in California, whose daughter is one of our customers, sent us $2,000 for a poor family, explaining that she wanted a ‘small chelek’ in this chessed. The generosity of Klal Yisrael is unparalleled in this respect.”

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UNITED KINGDOM – Pesach Price Check £

by Vicki Belovski

As families fill their cupboards, fridges and freezers for Pesach in anticipation of a week of festive meals, their wallets and bank accounts empty very quickly. But is Pesach food really more expensive than regular kosher food? And if so, why?

Hamodia asked two large London-based kashrus supervision organizations: Kedassia, the kashrus branch of the chareidi Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations and KLBD, the Kashrus Division of the London Beth Din, for their opinions on this topic.

Rabbi Michoel Scharf, Executive Kashrus Director of Kedassia, acknowledged that prices are often higher, but pointed out two very relevant facts which are often overlooked when complaining about the Pesach grocery bill. One is that the shopper is completely restocking their kitchen — it’s very unusual, except perhaps when moving house or going on holiday, to buy absolutely everything at the same time. The other is that much of the food lasts past Pesach — it’s rare to have nothing left over afterwards, whether it is put away for the following year or used over the next few weeks. As Rabbi Scharf said, “People are so worried they will run out, they buy enough to last them until Shavuos!” When these two factors are taken into consideration, the cost of the Pesach shopping does not seem so high after all.

In the U.K., many single-ingredient products, such as sugar, salt, tea, coffee, fruit juice, and so on, do not carry a hechsher during the year, and many people are happy to buy them. However, for Pesach, even those people who do not have high standards of kashrus during the rest of the year buy everything with a hechsher.

The KLBD, as part of the central Orthodox United Synagogue, said that they are keen to ensure the highest standards of kashrus are kept over Pesach while making it as easy and as financially accessible as possible. Producing special batches under supervision does inevitably have a cost. However, KLBD works with manufacturers to encourage them to have their products certified KLBD-P, i.e. suitable for Pesach throughout the year. Tate & Lyle sugar, for example, now bears a KLBD-P symbol and can be purchased for Pesach from regular sources at the normal year-round price. Both organizations work with a range of distributors, including supermarket chains, to ensure that there are easily available, reasonably priced Pesach products.

In general, KLBD said that their Pesach supervision is provided at cost as a service to the community, and when large quantities are produced the cost per item is negligible. They also made some observations about the total cost of the Pesach shopping trip, pointing out that people are buying food for a run of festive seudos with increased numbers, which in itself pushes up the total bill. Even if a family were only to buy basic foods, the cost would be greater, but when Yom Tov treats and extra non-essential foods are factored in, the costs really rise.

Both organizations observed that meat and chicken are not more expensive for Pesach. Rabbi Scharf said that there are additional costs in producing KLP chickens — for example, giving them different food for a few days before shechitah and additional hashgachah — which are absorbed by Kedassia.

The area where costs are definitely higher is processed foods, made from complex ingredients. For a start, many of the basic Pesach ingredients are far more expensive than regular ingredients, even without hashgachah. The KLBD said that ingredients such as ground almonds or potato flour can cost as much as 15 times the price of regular flour.

Rabbi Scharf explained the lengths to which it is necessary to go to source KLP ingredients for something as simple-sounding as a fruit yogurt. The milk and the yogurt culture are the same, but the other ingredients, such as fruit purée, sugar, citric acid and starch, must all either be produced specially or sourced in kitniyos-free versions, which require supervision. Some of the ingredients just for a basic yogurt come from as far away as Thailand! Nuts might come from California, Brazil or India, and Kedassia sends mashgichim to check all these sites.

Each stage — sourcing the ingredients, kashering the factory (which generally involves closing it for 24 hours first, then taking apart all the machinery pieces to clean it, before the kashering process), transporting the finished product — costs money. Mashgichim must travel to factories, sometimes for extended periods of time, in order to supervise ingredients and products. If a factory does a special KLP run, they sometimes open specially on a Sunday and have to pay their staff extra wages. The manufacturer is producing food as a business — they will keep the prices as low as they can, but they still have to cover all the extra costs and make a profit.

The KLBD also pointed out that the logistics of transportation are a significant factor. Whether it is a question of kashering a truck to transport oil, which then has to wait empty between batches, or a kosher grocery which requires special delivery of a supervised batch of food from the factory instead of the usual drop from the local depot, the additional transport costs for these special arrangements can be substantial.

However, as the KLBD pointed out, the market has become increasingly competitive over the years with Israeli, American and French imports competing with local U.K. manufacturers. As a result, in real terms, Pesach prices have often dropped rather than increased. Many shops, both supermarket chains and kosher grocery stores, have special offers on basic items, which can also go a long way to keeping the total cost down.

For those who struggle to afford Pesach, the UOHC has a kimche dePischa, as do many individual shuls of all organizations. The United Synagogue is directly helping around 600 families, confidentially, through their local shuls, with options including vouchers for a supermarket, vouchers for a kosher grocery and food parcels. One of the main matzah manufacturers provides the U.S. with boxes of matzah to distribute to those in need.

So if the cost of your Pesach shopping trip is daunting, consider the amount of work that goes into producing high-quality supervised food, and the quantity of food you will be eating over Yom Tov (and into the following weeks!) and perhaps it won’t seem so bad after all.

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ISRAEL – Pesach Price Check ₪

by Yossi Goldschmidt

(Gili Yaari/Flash90)

In the run-up to Pesach, we recall the Gemara discussing Haman speaking to Achashverosh about his “Jewish problem” and why the king needs to agree to get rid of the Jews. One of the points with which Haman slandered the Jews before the king – which doesn’t sound different from what many say of the religious community until today — “They are good-for-nothing and lazy, for they are forever observing days of rest, pushing off work with the claim that ‘today is Shabbos,’ ‘today is Pesach.’ ”

The mefarshim explain that it is understood why Haman mentioned Shabbos, because that is every week, and the Jewish workers leave early on Friday, but why, of all the Yamim Tovim did Haman only choose to mention Pesach? The answer given by many is that preparations for Pesach are throughout the year, during summer and winter, and obviously in the weeks or months before — much more than other Yamim Tovim.

To learn a bit “behind the scenes” of the world of kashrus, notably in regards to the Pesach season, Hamodia held a wide-ranging discussion with noted kashrus expert Harav Dov Landau of Yerushalayim, who shared with us the fine details and the various she’eilos that can arise.

It is imperative to note that all points mentioned in this discussion are only halachah-based, and not at all regarding any minhagim. Pesach is based on minhagim and mesorah — and minhag Yisrael Torah.

The Rav notes that part of the “hotza’os Shabbos v’Yom Tov —expenses of Shabbos and Yom Tov” that we are accustomed to are the seemingly higher prices ahead of the Yamim Tovim.

In this conversation, we heard about the extra hashgachah that at times translates into extra costs, as well as practical steps to watch over the foods for Pesach.

Fruits and Vegetables

(Gili Yaari/Flash90)

“Let’s begin with one important thing — there is no food today that doesn’t need to have a hechsher. The world has advanced to such an extent that anything can be made into something totally different, and therefore we will only purchase foods that have a proper hechsher.

“In fruits — aside from the issues of orlah, etc. in Eretz Yisrael — there are other things to take note of before Pesach. For example, some apples are waxed before being put out for sale. This wax might be chametz.

“Dates also need extra hashgachah for Pesach. The Rema writes in Hilchos Pesach that one shouldn’t eat dry fruit on Pesach. The reason given is that there is chametz on the fruits. Those who think, these days, that reason is no longer relevant are mistaken. Many dates, for example, receive glucose dripping before being marketed, and that could be chametz. Therefore, on Pesach one shouldn’t purchase dates without a hechsher that they are kosher l’Pesach.

“A she’eilah I have every year, generally on the first night of Pesach, is from those who buy sacks of fruit in the markets and all of a sudden realize that they didn’t take maasros from it, and now they have already cooked up the whole Yom Tov with these fruits…”

Milk and Milk Products

Rav Landau is a member of the Vaadat Mehadrin of Tnuva, and shares with us vital information regarding dairy products for Pesach.

“I hold, even though I am on the Vaadat Mehadrin, that one must purchase milk and dairy products before Pesach. Of course, we take much effort to ensure that the cows won’t eat chametz in the days before Pesach, but nevertheless there is a slight chance that something in the barn may get stuck to the cow or fall in the milk. All the milk is strained and is 100% kosher l’Pesach, yet I still say that those who want to be mehadrin should have all the products bought up before Pesach.”

Tnuva doesn’t milk during Chol Hamoed?

“Of course we milk during Pesach. There is also milking on Shabbos, as the halachah explicitly allows. There are years that we can ascertain that no milk is marketed as mehadrin during Chol Hamoed, only as regular kashrus. This year, with nearly a full week between the first day of Pesach and Shevi’i Shel Pesach, I don’t think it’ll be possible not to have fresh milk with a mehadrin hashgachah on the shelves. But obviously the milk and products that were milked before Pesach have a special stamp to show that they were manufactured before Pesach, and thus can be battel b’elef.

“Another issue that people aren’t aware of, found in cheese and other dairy products, is in regard to gebrokts. We all know of the minhag not to wet the matzah, or to place on it wet foods. What people might not know is that the sliced cheese they place on the matzah might be based on milk powder, as are many cheeses in Israel, due to lack of fresh milk, and this might render the matzah to be gebrokts. Those who are particular about gebrokts should inquire before Pesach which cheeses or butters have milk powder and which are purely milk, no water added.

“And obviously there are other dairy products that have flavorings or colors that are not kosher l’Pesach and need to be changed for the Pesach production. There are also products that are enzyme-based — a topic that warrants discussion on its own — and these must be kosher l’Pesach as well.”

Do you need to add mashgichim before Pesach in the dairy farms?

“What’s the question — we have extra teams who comb the barns to make sure that there is no chametz near the cows. There are two parts of that as well. The cows are no longer fed chametz from three to four days before Pesach, and there is also the food that they are fed during these days and the week of Pesach. This food needs to be prepared months in advance, with the supervision of a mashgiach. Actually, not only from the stage of preparation, from the earliest stages of its growth.

“The Poskim discuss if the milk of a cow who ate chametz is permitted, but all agree that if chametz falls into the milk it is forbidden, and a mashgiach is also needed for that.”

Chicken and Meat

Are the same she’eilos relevant to chickens?

“To eat the meat of a chicken that ate non-kosher food, or that even ate chametz on Pesach, or Shemittah fruits during Shemittah, is not a halachic problem. It is considered “zeh v’zeh gorem,” and is therefore permitted.

“What is more of a problem is that after the shechitah, the stomach of the chicken might burst, and if the chicken had eaten any chametz, even a minuscule piece, this will render the food not kosher l’Pesach. There are factories where they do not remove the gizzard from the chicken to ensure that it will not burst.”

We see people who are particular not to eat any processed foods on Pesach.

“It all depends where they’re coming from. If they are talmidei chachamim, they might know half of the reason why they don’t eat specific foods. If they are talmidei chachamim and are involved in kashrus, then they might know more.

“For example, there are those who will not drink Coca-Cola on Pesach. But wait: which wines/grape juice will they drink on Leil haSeder? Wines and grape juice have the same flavorings that are in Coca-Cola. If one takes a chumrah upon himself, they should know what stands behind it.

Bulk Sales and the Stores

(Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

In Eretz Yisrael, many are accustomed to having bulk sales ahead of Pesach, where people buy up for several months at the cheaper Erev Pesach prices.

But that came with a drawback. One needed to sign up weeks in advance, pay up front in cash, wait on the long lines for the products and all this in the pre-Pesach heat. And then comes the next stage and complicated operation: schlepping all the goodies home. Bear in mind that one day was the fruit order, the other day was the chicken, then the fish came from a different place — and those who sell weren’t always timing their sales with the cleanliness of the house, or the kitchen.

The expenses of Erev Yom Tov are exorbitant, and for larger families, it all adds up, and there is no reason to shop in a regular store where you will simply overspend or be overcharged, logic says.

Or maybe not?

In recent years, we hear from Reb Avraham Brisk, one of the managers of the Yesh Chesed supermarket chain, that they have collected all the products under one roof (no longer under the scorching sun…), and one can buy whenever he feels his kitchen is ready for the delivery.

There are certain advantages to the cheap bulk sales, but at that time the emphasis is on bulk and not on sales. At these larger sales, you can’t buy exactly the quantity you need; rather, it all comes in dozens or in containers, and at times, that is an expense, rather than a saving. And it isn’t just someone coming with food that is three days before the use-by date; rather, it is the regular quality products at the regular cheap prices.

Reb Avraham notes that having the larger families in mind, they keep their prices low, even with the slight rise that might occur in the Pesach foods. “There are foods in Israel that are under government supervision so that the prices stay low, like bread and basic milk products. But even for other foods, we keep the prices down.

“Most foods in Israel stay basically the same price come Pesach. Even though the companies will add to the costs, adding mashgichim, or changing some of the ingredients, the changes will be minimal, or even lower.

“The problem arises at times when there is a shortage of a certain food — and it might not specifically have anything to do with Pesach or chametz. There are several factors that might cause a sudden shortage in certain foods. The larger sales, selling foods by the dozen, can have an effect on the market, as these aren’t the regular numbers for the specific food. There are also the various minhagim on Pesach over which foods people eat, and this can cause a seeming shortage in some items. There are those who are particular to purchase all foods before the onset of Pesach, and that might also causes a certain food to be scarcer.

“Another reason for shortages, or artificial shortages, is the companies wanting to raise the prices last minute and utilize the momentum of the Erev Pesach season.”

What can be done to offset this?

“I would say to buy up early… but that’s what I just mentioned is the advantage of not being bound to specific days and schlepping.

“Ultimately, if you do hear of a specific food that is going to be running short, the only solution is to buy it now — based on storage availabilities — or to make a conscious decision to be able to make Pesach without it.”

From the perspective of a customer in the store, is Pesach more expensive?

“If you check item by item, the change in price is next to nothing. Why then, you may ask, are the Pesach purchases so expensive — at least in the experience? I think the reason is the quantities that people buy. I’m not referring to Pesach-specific items, which are certainly more expensive — or perhaps that is their price — but even regular items seem to be expensive. Based on my experience, even when shopping in the stores, people still come with the mindset of needing to buy a dozen packets or bottles, because anything less than that doesn’t ‘feel like Pesach.’”

Pesach is the Yom Tov most associated with chessed, perhaps due to it costing more than a regular Shabbos and Yom Tov. Another reason given in the sefarim is that the Shalosh Regalim are linked to the three Avos. Pesach resembles Avraham Avinu, who is known for his special middah of chessed. The passuk says on the Bnei Yisrael leaving Egypt and following Hashem in the desert, “Zacharti lach chessed ne’urayich, I remember the kindness of your youth … your following Me in the desert, in a land not sown.”

May we merit to have both a kosher and freilichen Pesach.