supermarket - Ofer Vaknin - June 17 2011
Israelis are paying far too much for milk products in supermarkets. Photo by Ofer Vaknin
Text size

Bad news for lovers of bland food: 'White cheese' is off protesters' menu, too.

The consumers' revolt over the price of cottage cheese is showing mixed results, with steep declines on Friday in sales of the curds being reported by two major supermarket chains - and an even steeper rise in a third that took advantage of or joined in the protest - depending on your perspective - to slash its price for the staple.

Peer pressure is having an effect. At a Mega store in Shoham on Friday afternoon a shopper reaching for a container of cottage cheese is roundly rebuked by another, who tells her, "You're hurting the protest." The would-be scab meekly withdraws her hand. A similar incident was witnessed in a Tel Aviv branch of Mega.

Mega operator Blue Square admitted that the chain's cottage cheese sales on Friday were 25% below average. Blue Square did not join its rivals in slashing the prices of cottage cheese and other dairy products in recent days.

Blue Square CEO Zeev Vurembrand said he believed that for retailers to cut prices now would only heighten demand and work against the boycott.

The Rami Levi supermarket chain reported a 50% jump in its cottage cheese sales on Friday, after it cut the price from NIS 6.5 to NIS 4.9 for the familiar 25-gram plastic container.

Adi Zim, an owner of the Hetzi Hinam chain, said his customers are cutting back on the curds despite the cut in price, to NIS 4.5. He reported a 35% drop in the volume of cottage cheese sales on Friday, and a 40% slide in sales of another Israeli standard, the soft, white, unripened cheese known as "white cheese."

'A just war'

Zim says he's all for the consumer boycott: "I'm in favor of boycotting any company that raises prices without justification, and today the prices in the stores are genuinely unjustifiable. I encourage the public to continue the boycott because it is a just war," Zim said.

On Thursday the leaders of the Facebook-run boycott called a press conference to announce an escalation of the campaign, moving up the official start of the boycott from July 1 to "now." They also expanded the list of shunned products to include white cheese.

Campaign leader Itzik Alrov said the group is recommending that consumers pay no more than NIS 5 a container for cottage and white cheese in order to put pressure on retailers that have not yet slashed their prices.

A nonscientific survey of supermarkets on Friday showed that although consumers are knowledgeable and sympathetic to the cottage cheese part of the boycott, the message that white cheese is also on the "Don't Buy" list has not gotten out.

"Sales of white cheese haven't dropped, but despite the rise in sales of cottage cheese it's obvious that people have heard about the boycott," Rami Levi said Friday. "I heard people near the dairy case saying that starting July 1, they won't buy cottage cheese. Maybe they haven't heard that the boycott was brought forward."