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Kosher Prices Soar, Jewish Families Get Creative For High Holidays

Rising costs prompt budget creativity and alternative shopping strategies for Jewish families preparing for holidays.

Days before Rosh Hashanah, the Boca Raton Synagogue in Southeast Florida held a food giveaway in its parking lot for those in need.

Many filed into a tent with tables and shelves packed with honey jars and cakes, wine, grape juice, coffee, sugar, and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. There was also chicken, flour and other staples of the holiday menu that were free for those who needed it.

The synagogue held a  similar giveaway last year before Rosh Hashanah and has done so annually prior to Passover, according to Talia Borenstein, the synagogue’s director of member engagement. The offerings make “a major difference” in alleviating rising costs, she said.

Each year, the synagogue has expanded its offerings, she said, adding this was the first time that chicken was available.

The numbers

National kosher data is difficult to come by, but in general, kosher poultry and meat tend to cost more than non-kosher items for several reasons, including the way animals are slaughtered and how the process must be supervised.

The average price in U.S. cities went up from about $1.88 to $1.96 per pound for whole chickens from August 2022 to August 2023, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics records. Bone-in chicken legs also went up during that span from $1.99 to $2.03 per pound, while boneless chicken breast went down from about $4.71 to $4.18 per pound.

In the Midwest, which the BLS defines as Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin, numbers went down slightly for whole chicken (from about $1.87 to $1.85 per pound) and dropped dramatically for boneless chicken breast (from $5.37 to about $4.58 per pound).

Bagged whole fryer chickens are advertised at $1.07 per pound at 2,584 stores nationwide for the week of Sept. 29 to Oct. 5, which is down $1.77 a pound last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s national report for chicken. Bagged whole roaster chickens are also cheaper compared to last year, per the FDA.

Advertised prices for boneless chicken breasts are up compared to last week but significantly down from last year, according to the FDA data. “Poultry items are about to face some stiff competition in the coming weeks,” per the FDA report. It wasn’t clear to what extent the national prices from the FDA or BLS relate to kosher chicken.

In the middle of the summer, one of the nation’s leading kosher meat distributors announced that it would need to raise prices on many items. Some Orthodox families feared the worst when rumors swirled on Facebook through WhatsApp and on websites that kosher meat prices could rise 40%.

“Everyone was going crazy,” Elan Kornblum, who runs the thousands of users-strong Facebook group Great Kosher Restaurants, said. Kornblum posted about the price hike in July.

But after he spoke to several people who work in the industry, Kornblum urged people not to panic. The 40% hike wasn’t across the board or even on most meat items, he said, and the company has competitors.

“People who are conscientious—and there are many, and they should be—might not buy as much as they did or they might get a lesser quality of chicken,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a drastic change.”

Boca Raton Synagogue in Southeast Florida distributed fruits, vegetables, grape juice, wine and other staples prior to the High Holidays, September 2023. With kosher prices high, Jewish families get creative prepping for the holidays. JNS VIA COURTESY

Budget creativity

Menachem Lubinsky, president and CEO of Lubicom Marketing Consulting and a kosher industry insider, said that consumers are “being more cautious about their bill” and that some are switching from buying beef to chicken and fish.

One of the main challenges for kosher consumers this holiday season will be how to celebrate in the “same grand way as usual and to be creative with their budget,” he said. That includes buying meat well in advance of holidays, when prices are lower, and freezing it.

Others have turned to non-Jewish supermarkets that often sell kosher meat and chicken, including Costco and Trader Joe’s. In certain cities, kosher chicken and meat are significantly cheaper at those stores than it is at exclusively kosher supermarkets.

In other places outside of major Jewish centers, where kosher meat and chicken are less plentiful, consumers may need to stomach steeper prices or forgo chicken or meat for the holidays.

The 40% meat hike didn’t materialize, but insiders report that kosher food prices have risen during the High Holiday season and leading up to Sukkot. Many might think that 2020 was the peak year for food aid, due to the pandemic, but David Greenfield, CEO and executive director of Met Council on Jewish Poverty, said that supplies have struggled more recently to keep pace with demand.

Some members of an online community board for Orthodox women bemoaned the challenge of feeding their families “nice” meals for the holidays on a limited food budget. 

Suggestions on that message board for stretching budgets included using cheaper cuts of meat to make pulled beef and chicken and rice dishes with fewer and smaller pieces of chicken.

Bina Drazin, a South African native who lives in Cleveland, runs several charity programs that provide items, including baby formula, for free or nearly gratis.

A woman whom she helped recently told her that her credit card was maxed out. “I don’t know what I would do without you,” she said the woman told her.

“My aim is to help any Jew. That’s all I want to do,” Drazin said. “Everybody needs help these days.”

Produced in association with Jewish News Syndicate

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