After the High Holidays, the newspaper headlines warned, prices for everything would go up: milk, bread, vegetables and hundreds of other products made by the big food manufacturers, including Osem, Unilever Israel, Coca-Cola and Vita Pri Hagalil.

Some of the increases aren't scheduled to occur for another month. But a survey of supermarkets a day after Monday's Simhat Torah holiday, the final one of the season, found that prices were in fact as much as 24% higher than before the holidays. The check was done by comparison with prices in mid-September, before the Rosh Hashanah holiday, at branches of Super-Sol Deal, Mega Bool and Rami Levy.

Traditionally, supermarkets entice shoppers with big discounts before the holidays. After all, people are spending heavily on food, and the chains want to attract as much business as they can with sales on the items most in demand for the holidays. Nevertheless, the mid-September check found that supermarket prices were between 12% and 35% higher than they were a year ago.

Prices for nearly all supermarket items, from chicken and fresh produce to cleaning products, have risen sharply in the past year, sometimes adding hundreds of shekels to the price of a shopping trip. But the food retailers insist they didn't raise prices before the holidays, and that this year's sales were even more attractive than last year's.

Domino effect

TheMarker's survey found that the domino effect, in which food manufacturers' announcements of future price hikes prompt retailers to raise prices immediately, wasn't fully in evidence in the immediate post-holiday period. The supermarket chains have not yet approved the manufacturers' updated price lists, and most have promised to minimize how much of the increase they pass on to the consumer. But prices were already higher before the holidays.

The survey was somewhat disrupted by the absence of many items from the shelves, as the supermarkets hadn't yet recovered from the droves of shoppers who descended during the holidays. At outlets in Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan, fresh chicken was in short supply and many canned goods were missing, as were soft drinks and dried goods. Clerks were struggling to get products onto the shelves.

The pre-holiday survey by TheMarker comprised 42 products, including fish, fruits and vegetables, soft drinks and cleaning products. But some of these products - the ones that are holiday treats, like gefilte fish - were left off the post-holiday list, cutting the number of items for comparison to 30.

That 30-item food basket climbed by only 7% at Mega Bool, but by 17% at Super-Sol Deal and 24% at Rami Levy.

Nevertheless, the Rami Levy basket was still a relative bargain at NIS 395 (versus NIS 318.20 a month ago ). At Mega Bool it reached NIS 496.65, compared with NIS 462.55, while at Super-Sol Deal it was NIS 448.55, up from NIS 382.65. The gap between the cheapest and the most expensive basket was 26%.

For example, at Super-Sol Deal, frozen Nile perch sold for NIS 19.90 a kilogram before the holidays; after the holidays, it rose to NIS 35.90, a stunning 80% increase. At Mega Bool, the same fish sold for NIS 10 per kilo before the holidays; now it is priced at NIS 56, a whopping 87% rise.

Focus on big food

The survey took a special look at products made by the big manufacturers to see whether shelf prices had, in fact, begun to rise even before the official price lists were distributed to the supermarket chains. The check found that nearly every food maker had some products whose prices had already been raised.

Thus a six-pack of Neviot mineral water, which is sold and distributed by Central Bottling Company (the local Coca-Cola franchisee ), is now 46% higher at Super-Sol Deal and 24% higher at Rami Levy. A 750-gram bottle of Osem catsup rose from NIS 8 or NIS 9 before the holidays to between NIS 10.50 and NIS 12.10 after - an increase of 18% to 34%.

Telma Cornflakes, which are sold by Unilever Israel, rose by 30% at Rami Levy and Super-Sol Deal. At Mega Bool, however, they were on sale, so the price was actually 7% lower than before the holidays (though back then, Mega Bool charged the highest price for the cereal - NIS 17.15, versus NIS 13 at Super-Sol Deal and NIS 12.90 at Rami Levy ).

The supermarkets say they have not been raising prices.

"No price increases were made either before and after the holidays," said a spokesman for Super-Sol. "The differences noted in the survey are due to special holiday sales that have ended and been replaced by new discounts on a wide range of products."

Mega Bool said the increase in fresh produce prices was due to seasonal factors unconnected with the holidays, and said other prices went up because of the rise in value-added tax in September.

Rami Levy also attributed the rises to the end of holiday sales. "We passed on [to the consumer] all the special prices we were given by our suppliers. When the holidays were over, we brought back the original prices," the chain said in a statement. It also vowed to compensate for the next round of scheduled price hikes by food makers with various sales to minimize the impact.

Detailed results for the full shopping basket are available (in Hebrew ) at http://www.themarker.com/consumer/1.1839964.