Kosher getting harder to find

| 03/12/2008 | Reply

Times are tough for Shalom Dadon, a grocer in Ormond Beach who trucks his specialty goods to Naples every two weeks.

Prices for some items have jumped in recent months — as much as 30
percent for ground beef and ribeye steaks. Other meats, like lamb and
veal, have become increasingly difficult to find.

“Customers are disappointed,” he said recently by phone.

Dadon’s troubles arise not from a flagging economy but a single
event this summer, when federal authorities raided the country’s
largest kosher meatpacking plant, in Postville, Iowa, arresting 400
immigrant workers and disrupting a nationwide distribution chain of
meats prepared according to the strictures of Jewish law.

“I’m going out to my clients with less merchandise,” said Dadon, who
runs Kosher on Wheels, a service that trucks meats, babkas and other
kosher foods between both coasts.

The Iowa plant, run by Agriprocessors, Inc., has since closed,
raising kosher meat prices and making some cuts almost impossible to
find.

Dadon estimates his inventory declined 40 percent since the plant closed three weeks ago.

Smaller companies are struggling to replace Agriprocessors’
oversized role in the $12.5 billion-a-year U.S. kosher food market.
Processors have been swamped with orders, increasing the amount of meat
they produce or refusing to take new clients. Markets and butchers say
they can’t get certain cuts of meat for their customers, largely
Orthodox Jews.

“It’s like, imagine that 10,000 customers now are coming to a
certain supplier…who cannot keep up with certain orders,” Dadon said.

The supplier, in turn, focuses on popular meats like ground beef and skimps on finer cuts like lamb and veal, he said.

Ettie Zaklos of Naples said the shortfall is especially noticeable
on Florida’s east coast, which has a larger Jewish population and more
kosher grocery stores.

“Many places you go, the meat is not available. Just the poultry,”
said Zaklos, whose husband, Rabbi Fishel Zaklos, founded the Chabad
Jewish Center in Naples.

This past weekend, she found that ground beef, French roast and
steaks were missing from east coast stores and that grocers didn’t know
when they would receive new inventory. She hoped smaller
slaughterhouses would fill the void.

The shortage is a new opportunity for some small processors.

Last week, New York-based Empire Kosher Poultry Inc. increased its
poultry output by 50 percent, adding 100,000 chickens a week to the
kosher market. Wise Kosher Natural Poultry Inc., which processes kosher
beef at a South Dakota plant, was also turning out more.

Dadon now gets his meats from Wise, although he’s paying a bit more.
A pound of ground beef now costs $6.50, compared to $5 when the
Agricprocessors plant was in business. Ribeye steaks are up 30 percent
as well, he said.

The price climb’s effects are limited in Southwest Florida compared
to the state’s east coast, where the Jewish population is higher. Jay
Wolfson, owner of Prestige Catering, said he didn’t know of a single
kosher grocer in the area.

“Naples is a hard place to do it,” he said. “There isn’t one kosher restaurant in all of Southwest Florida.”

Wolfson said the shortage wouldn’t affect him, as he rarely caters kosher events that involve meats.

Melissa Keel, an administrative assistant at the Jewish Federation
of Collier County, said many kosher foods could be purchased at local
grocery stores. Stores like Publix will often put in special requests
for items they don’t have in stock, she added.

“This is the first I’ve heard of the problem,” she said.

Kosher meats are more difficult to find in stores than other kosher
goods. Jewish law requires precise standards of slaughtering and
cleanliness be performed under the supervision of rabbis.

Adherence to kosher diet varies with person and practice. Zaklos
pointed out that some non-Jews eat kosher foods for health or ethical
reasons.

“They know they’re getting a healthier meal,” she said.

For now, Dadon will continue bringing his truck and trailer to
Naples to sell whatever he has, “until the situation changes,” he said.

Zaklos, a fan of Kosher on Wheels, said she’ll manage until things get better.

“Me personally, I am living off my freezer right now,” she said.

Category: Meat & Poultry, The Americas

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