Why Is This Passover Different From Others?

A visit to a mall in Tel Aviv this week found it crowded, but Israeli shoppers were less enthusiastic than the merchants and not convinced prices were lower.

Ofer Vaknin

Why is this Passover different from all other ones? Israelis aren’t only packing the malls, they’re buying.

Data obtained by TheMarker from the market research company Nielsen show that retail spending on food, beverages, personal care and household products rose 2.1% at chain stores last week from the same period last year. Per-capita sales were 1,006 shekels ($268), up from 985 shekels a year ago.

In some categories the increase was bigger. Sales of personal-care products rose 5.7% year-on-year, according to Nielsen. Supermarkets and shopping malls confirm the trend.

“Our traffic is up 20% to 30% from last Passover,” said Ofer Yoram, VP marketing of Azrieli Group, Israel’s biggest mall operator.

Super-Sol, Israel’s biggest supermarket chain, says sales are up 3% while at apparel retailer H&O and supermarket chain Tiv Taam the increases are reportedly significantly higher.

All these figures are tentative and final data won’t be available until after the holiday, but everyone in retail agrees it marks a big change from a long period of tepid sales.

According to the credit-card clearing firm Gama Management & Clearing, the average transaction during the two weeks preceding Passover was 4% below that of 2015.

Uri Kilstein, VP of trade and marketing at Super-Sol, said he’s not surprised by the change. Prices are lower than they were a year ago. He attributes the drop to the easing of import restrictions on fish, cheese and olive oil to enter Israel and the reduction of the prices of some price-controlled items.

“They affect the consumer directly not only by bringing them to the store but increasing the number of products they buy,” Kilstein said.

Another factor, Kilstein and others say, is the weather.

“The spring weather has been unusually nice this time and that brings people out of their homes. Passover is late this year and that helps,” said Yoram. “At the same time we’ve been running specials that have drawn in shoppers.”

But Yoram said that while consumers are spending more freely, they are still shopping carefully.

“Today no one goes and buys impulsively – they first compare prices. We see this in the traffic to our website.”

A visit to the Dizengoff Center mall in Tel Aviv this week found it crowded, but shoppers interviewed by TheMarker were less enthusiastic about shopping than the merchants and not convinced prices were lower, despite the fact that the Central Bureau of Statistics has reported that the consumer price index has dropped in seven of the last eight months.

“There is certainly a difference in prices this year, said Amnon Edward of Bat Yam. “There are all kinds of sales ahead of the holiday, but it’s not balanced – the things I need are still expensive. It feels like every year for the past five or six years that the price of everything is rising, whether it’s fruits and vegetables, fish or things such as clothing.”

But he is buying less?

“No, I’m doing about the same amount of shopping because I don’t have a choice – I’m just paying more,” he said.

“There’s been a drastic increase in prices, so I’m buying less and only what I need,” said Maya, 33, who asked that her surname not be published.

“I’m only buying presents where I have no choice and I make the rest myself. When I buy something I buy something good quality.”

Ronit, 24 works at a clothing store on Dizengoff Street and lives with her parents, contributing to household expenses. She also expressed frustration at high prices.

“I go to the cheapest supermarket, Osher-Ad, and even there I put a few things in the cart and the bills is already 200 shekels. Everything is becoming so expensive that I’ve almost given up buying snacks at the supermarket because it raises the bill. I just buy what I need,” she said.