Shefa Shuk No More: Boycotted Chain Renamed Zol B'Shefa

Facelift won't bring back Haredi shoppers, ban will simply apply to new chain too, clarifies source near rabbis.

Hoping to regain traction among the Haredi community, the Blue Square retail group is rebranding its Shefa Shuk chain of supermarkets. The Shefa Shuk outlets are being renamed Zol B'Shefa and will sport new colors - red and black - rather than red and green.

Still, if Blue Square executives hope to regain the custom of ultra-Orthodox shoppers, they may be in for a disappointment.

Shefa Shuk
Tomer Neuberg

The Blue Square group is owned by Dudi Wiessman. Haredi leaders called a boycott of Wiessman's businesses, including Shefa Shuk, at the start of 2008 on the grounds that the group also operates the 24/7 chain AM:PM, which as the name indicates, operates on Shabbat.

The AM:PM chain operates exclusively in the Tel Aviv area. Wiessman acquired the chain from its founders in 2006. Various gestures Wiessman and the group made to appease the Haredi community, such as prohibiting the AM:PM stores from selling hametz products during Passover week, did not win hearts in the ultra-orthodox community. Neither did the proposal that some AM:PM stores do close down for business on Shabbat.

Failing to persuade Wiessman to shut down the AM:PM stores on Shabbat entirely, the Committee for the Sanctity of Shabbat published the call for a boycott in the Haredi press, and it hit hard.

Since the boycott began, Shefa Shuk shrank from 40 branches to 10.

But merely rebranding the stores doesn't change the heart of the matter, it would seem.

"They did this after realizing that the brand Shefa Shuk had taken a mortal blow among the Haredim, and they think this is how to rehabilitate it," said a source close to the rabbinical committee. "Regrettably, the boycott remains in force. As far as the rabbis are concerned, they're just trying to fool the Haredim."

An announcement will probably be made shortly that the prohibition remains in effect and Haredim shouldn't shop at Zol B'Shefa either, the source added.

But a source close to Shefa Shuk says the rebranding isn't related to the rabbis. "The market has changed. New competition has arisen. The chain can't stay behind," he said.

The changes will include new pricing policy and a different product mix. "More and more Haredim have been buying at chain outlets during the last couple of years," the source said. They're joining customer clubs, too, and it was time Blue Square made changes to contend with the competition.

Another change: Two months ago the chain brought back Uri Kaminsky to run the show. He had resigned three years ago from Shefa Shuk's management because of the boycott. During the last three years he's held a number of senior jobs at rival marketing chains including the Haredi chain Bar Kol and Co-Op Jerusalem.

Kaminsky is considered a close associate of a Haredi leader, Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman.

The Haredi community makes up about 11% of the Israeli consumer market.

Blue Square declined to comment for this article.