While one major Atlanta supermarket closed its kosher department before the High Holidays, another is beefing up its kosher delivery and event planning services.
Fountain Oaks Kroger closed its kosher kitchen Aug. 27 as part of its recent renovation, which includes fresh meat, deli and sushi departments. Kosher packaged foods, meat and dairy products will still be available, said kosher supervisor Moshe Sapir.
Since closing the kosher kitchen, he’s fielded complaints from customers about having to travel to Toco Hills for their fresh, sliced, baked and specialty kosher food.
Toco Hills has long been the main Atlanta hub for kosher food. Publix is taking its customer service a step forward to meet the needs of the kosher Jewish community. As the only Publix in the country with kosher departments, the Toco Hill Shopping Center store recently began delivering kosher food within 20 miles for up to $20, free for orders of $150 or more. Wedding and specialty cakes are a separate fee.
Since delivery began, local schools and synagogues created standing orders for their bagel breakfasts and meetings, said Laya Shaikun, event planner and mashgiach.
Toco Hills Kroger also offers larger fresh kosher meat, deli and bakery departments, but no delivery. “Kroger does delivery, but it hasn’t hit this store,” said kosher manager Betzalel Yochanan.
The Publix kosher delivery service is an outgrowth of its Apron Event Planning stations at which customers receive help planning parties and then “we do the shopping, package it up and have it ready for the customer to pick up or deliver to their home,” said Brenda Reid, spokesperson for Publix Atlanta division.
Customers can also order online using Instacart, a relationship that began last year, she said.
So, what about the competition with Kroger? “Competition is good for everyone. The customer gets the variety they want and hopefully a good price. We are the customer service leader in this arena. The service we provide in the meat department, in the deli department, it’s all about offering the product the customer wants.”
Reid said the Toco Hills Publix was selected as the first one with separate kosher departments in 2001 because of the number of synagogues adjacent to the store. The store has been quite profitable, she said.
“Supermarkets know who their customer base is and try to accommodate them,” said Rabbi Reuven Stein, director of supervision at the Atlanta Kashruth Commission. A kosher shopper may only need two to three things in the kosher department, but they will stay and shop for other items they need at the store, Stein said. That’s why a store may be profitable even if its kosher department isn’t, he said, hinting at the recent Kroger closing.
Based on brainstorming sessions he had with Publix before the Toco Hills location added its kosher department, he believes the Southeast-based grocery chain was trying to keep up with Kroger in the same shopping center. Kroger started its kosher department about 18 years ago, Yochanan said.
When Publix surveyed the neighborhood, it realized that to level the playing field, it needed to carve out a portion of the kosher market for itself, Stein said.
Publix has an advantage over Kroger when it comes to its popular sub shop, he said. It can draw on its reputation to make subs with freshly baked kosher bread and sliced deli meat.
While Kroger was the first in the market, Publix leads the way with delivery. And when it began offering kosher Southern fried chicken, Kroger followed suit, Stein said.
They both offer kosher sushi, which wasn’t available years ago, he said.
“It’s great for the kosher consumer,” Stein said of the competition.
Kroger and Publix aren’t the only ones in the area with kosher selections. Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Costco and The Spicy Peach offer kosher food. “They each have their niche,” he said.
“In the United States, people like to have choices. It’s healthy that way. Some people like Publix and others like Kroger. To their credit, they have gone out of their way to accommodate. Kroger has a nice Chanukah party. They invite the Sisterhood to make latkes, dress up as the Maccabees, and invite the day schools to light the menorah.
“Publix is similar. Both donate to Jewish organizations, day schools, other organizations. It says a lot.”
With all the cooking going on in Toco Hills every Shabbat and for the Jewish holidays, it seems there’s plenty of kosher food business to go around.