Fending Off Boycott, Strauss Extending Discounts to Year-end

But students demand food company cut all prices by 30%.

Food company Strauss Group announced yesterday that following a meeting between management and leaders of the protest movement on Tuesday, it will extend its bargain prices for the Rosh Hashanah holiday until the end of the year.

But the students, who are threatening to boycott Strauss (and other big food manufacturers ), were unimpressed by the proposal, demanding instead that the company slash all its prices by 30%.

Zion Balas
Ofer Vaknin

At the meeting the protest leaders demanded that Strauss lower prices of its nondairy products - including salads, spreads, chocolate and coffee - on a permanent basis, not just for the holiday season. So far, Strauss' special deals have been confined to cheeses.

Strauss CEO Zion Balas said yesterday that following his meeting with protest leaders the day before, the firm had looked for ways to lower prices further. The upshot was the decision to maintain the special deals through year-end.

Beyond that, Strauss management will continue to consider the issue of pricing in the months and years to come for the benefit of consumers, Balas promised, noting that the company has to adapt to the new reality.

"This is a process that will require changes, adjustments in working procedures and long-term investments," he said. "That can't be done on an immediate basis."

He repeated the position he voiced at the meeting, and which chairwoman Ofra Strauss had stated before: that Strauss can't fix the world all by itself. The government, regulators and business need to work together to change pricing levels, he said: The government has to lower VAT, and the other relevant parties "have to participate in this effort," he added though without specifically mentioning the big supermarket chains.

At other times and places, when under attack by the protest movement, food makers have blamed the retailers for their fat mark-ups.

The students yesterday rejected Strauss' overtures. "We expect Strauss-Elite to lower prices permanently," said one source in the student movement, adding that Balas had admitted during the Tuesday meeting that Israel's cost of living is one the highest in the world.

The students also stressed that their boycott of Tnuva is continuing despite that company's gestures.

Tnuva, which is Israel's biggest dairy producer, has been under terrific consumer fire and announced abrupt changes in policy on Sunday. Tnuva chairwoman Zehavit Cohen stepped down, and immediately afterward, the company announced price cuts of up to 15% on a range of dairy products - though not all, and not on the fish and meat the company also produces.

The third biggest dairy company is Tara - and for now, its products are in extremely short supply at stores, as shoppers heeding the students' call to boycott Tnuva had only one alternative source of milk: Tara. Strauss does not produce regular milk.