Any fond hopes shoppers had harbored that prices of foods and spring-cleaning products would cost less this Passover compared with last year were misplaced. Checks of a basic basket of products at Israel's leading discount supermarket chains have found that, with one exception, prices ahead of Passover 2012 are higher.
That one exception is the Mega Bool discount chain, which belongs to the Blue Square group of companies. Mega Bool is the only one that was not found to charge more this year than it did in the same period of 2011. On the other hand, ahead of Passover last year, its prices were the highest found in the sample checks by TheMarker: It is cheapest this year simply by dint of not changing its prices.
TheMarker checked prices at Super-Sol Deal, Mega Bool, Rami Levi Shivuk Hashikma and the Osher Ad. While Rami Levi has usually come out cheapest in price comparisons (by baskets of products), this time around it had stiff competition from Mega Bool.
Comparisons of 33 products found they cost more this Passover than last year. For instance, last year a liter of Tirosh red grape juice cost NIS 12.90 at Rami Levi's Ramat Gan branch and at Super-Sol Deal's Yigal Allon Street branch in Tel Aviv. This year Levi is selling the drink for NIS 14.90, an increase of 15%. Super-Sol Deal is charging NIS 17.90, up 39% from last Passover. Mega Bool is still asking for NIS 15.
Moreover, the retail chains significantly reduced their spending on traditional pre-holiday advertising campaigns. But their savings are not being rolled over onto making products more affordable.
Passover is a heavy shopping period for Israeli households. Stores usually expect a spike in spending on food, cleaning products and clothing. People may have expected prices to be more modest after the upheavals last summer and fall. As demonstrations over looming austerity measures swept Europe last summer, Israel itself was struck by the largest grass-roots protests in its history.
The Israeli economy had weathered the global economic crisis of 2008 and 2009 largely unscathed: None of the local banks were much affected by the troubles knocking down finance institutions in Europe and the United States. Israel became the only nation in the West to have its sovereign credit rating upgraded (by Standard & Poor's, in September 2011, to A +). But Israelis began to gain a sense of their high cost of living relative to other Western nations: They began to understand that things in Israel cost more.
The immediate impetus behind the protest movement was a decision by Israeli dairy companies to hike the price of cottage cheese. One man, Itzik Alrov, launched a Facebook page calling for a cottage cheese boycott, and he struck a nerve that at the peak had about 400,000 Israelis attending a single protest in Tel Aviv.
Rami Levi commented that if TheMarker had checked 150 products, not 33, it would have found no increase year over year.
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