Friday, January 23, 2009

Israelis: Take Back the Supermarket קריאה להחרים חברות המשמות כסרסורים לחרדים

About 20 years ago, I briefly met a fellow named Aharon Malka (if you’re out there, this is a tribute to you!) who ate according to an intriguing principle: He refused to eat any food with the Rabbinate’s kashrut approval. In order to uphold this, I suppose his food selection was limited to certain produce and eggs whose origins he could ascertain, breads baked on-site by a few select chains, and some fish. It eliminated nearly all dairy products, meats, processed and prepared foods, including snack foods, and I assume most if not all eating out. Naturally, I admired this one-man, doomed-to-fail boycott of the Rabbinate monopoly.

I’m reminded of it whenever I read another captain of industry claiming that his company is compelled to cater to the needs of the ultra-Orthodox population, as it comprises “such a large slice of the market”. An example that comes to mind is Egged running their despicable mehedrin [gender-segregated] lines.

It occurs to me that while manufacturers jump through hoops to get their products certified kosher so that they will hopefully be purchased by 15% of the Israeli population, they appear amnesiac when it comes to a larger buying group, namely the Arabs, who represent 20% of the Israeli population. Not only are there more Arabs than there are uO Jews, but they too have larger families than do non-Orthodox Jews. And while the Arab sector is relatively poor, I'd be willing to bet that they have more disposable income per household than do the ultra-Orthodox, many of whom live on the wife’s (meager) income and / or state stipends. So business-wise, which population does it make more sense to target?

Taking the example of Egged, many Arab communities are way underserved when it comes to public transportation. Is it really more profitable for Egged to run their mehadrin line on already-served routes than it would be to establish commuter routes in the rural Galilee and the Negev?

The same goes for perishables. Which costs a manufacturer more? Paying for kashrut supervision and certification, or adding Arabic to the product’s labeling and targeting Arab consumers? Some companies, notably (if I recall their advertising correctly) Telma, have made such efforts. If a giant like Telma can manage it, why can’t others?

It's often that I recall good ol’ Aharon Malka, and wonder if he still adheres to his boycott. Just as often, I’ve admired him and wished I had the self-control to follow suit. After just now visiting the Osem, Telma, and Tnuva sites and ascertaining that indeed Osem is part of Nestlè, I think I’ll extend my Nestlè boycott to Osem products. As Stevie Wonder sang, “Heaven help us all”.

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