The real miracle of Hanukkah this year is why all the major Israeli bakery chains are raising prices of their special holiday doughnuts practically in unison. Again.
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The circumstances would seem to argue against this confectionary creep. Food sales per capita in Israel have been declining for three years now, according to market research data. In fact, after factoring in population growth, the market research firm Storenext says food sales in Israel are in a “recession.” One reason is the rise of the heavy discount chains, such as Rami Levy and Victory.
Yochai Shemo of the Shemo bakery begs to point out that making a gourmet donut, with filling and topping and things stuck on it and in it, is a lot of work. But his chain, for one, decided against raising prices this year in principle – and canceled its flagship chestnut cream sufganiya that had sold for 19 shekels ($5) a pop last year.
That’s quite a record price. Most bakeshops are still selling the standard jelly donut – fried dough stuffed with strawberry jam – for five shekels, though some jacked up the price towards seven shekels, such as the Café Greg chain. Shemo is asking five for the jelly donut. Supermarkets, by the way, tend to charge a lot less: Rami Levy, for instance, is asking less than a fifth of the price – just 90 agorot for its basic jelly donuts.
But while many didn’t dare touch the price of the standard jelly donut, they did boldly go into new territory for the second most-favorite sufganiya, filled with dulce de leche cream. If last year that sold for six shekels in most places, this year it’s seven.
Then there are the weird sufganiyot, one of which can cost 13 times as much as the standard Rami Levy offering.
The bakery and café chain Roladin is the biggest sufganiya player in town. It is famed for its creative and extravagant Hanukkah inventions, last year offering the “vanilla Madagascar cream” number with white chocolate coating and garnishes including white chocolate pearls, meringues, almond crumble and a toffee cream chaser. The chaser comes in a little personal vial that you can squeeze into the heart of your donut or into your mouth.
Last year Roladin’s chaser donuts (which have been copycatted here and there) would set you back 11 shekels; this year it’s 12 shekels, or nearly $4.
Three years ago Roladin was selling the “chaser” series of sufganiyot for 9.50 shekels, so it’s raised the price by more than 25%. At least this year, Roladin left the prices of the basic jam sufganiya at five and the caramel one at six.
The Berman bakery chain went whole hog, raising all its prices. This year it’s charging 5.70 shekels for a jam donut, up from 4.80 last year. Its dairy donuts, which include caramel cream, cost 7.90 shekels each, up from 6.80, which is coincidentally the price of its special parve donuts this year.
Rival chain Biscotti also raised all prices by one shekel except of the basic jelly donut. Simple ones with other fillings, such as crème patissiere, have risen by a shekel each to six, while the special ones are going for nine.
The Café Greg chain also forged upwards; this year its donuts start at seven shekels, compared with five to six shekels last year. The chain explains that this year, its donuts are bigger.
So how does the Rami Levy chain manage to charge less than a shekel for a strawberry-jam or chocolate filled sufganiya?
The simple answer is that it’s losing money on the deal, and is using the holiday favorite as a loss-leader, attracting people to its stores. And two days before Hanukkah actually begins (on Christmas, December 25 this year), Rami Levy plans to slice its price in half, to a mere 49 agorot per sufganiya (limited to five per shopper).
Not to be outdone, the rival heavy-discount chain Victory is also charging just 90 agorot per donut, or 4.90 for special coated ones (like with chocolate and sprinkles).
Shufersal, which is not a discount chain but is a supermarket chain, is asking two shekels per mini-sufganiya with strawberry jam, and three for an ordinary jam sufganiya. The chocolate-stuffed one will set you back 3.50 for a mini and four for regular size.
Why exactly have Israel’s bakeries decided to raise prices, with food sales in recession? Mainly because of the increase in the minimum wage in recent years, they explain.
Berman also stated that the price of sugar has increased.
Which it has, briefly. A Bloomberg chart does show that sugar prices have risen 25% in the last year. But a glance at the five-year trend shows that in that span of time, the price of sugar has dropped by 20%.
Speaking of long-term trends, the price of sufganiyot in Israel has been gradually rising for years, and its behavior has not been correlated with changes in the price of sugar. For instance, donut prices did not trend down when sugar prices tumbled from 2012 to August 2015.
Which brings us back to Roladin and its price hikes to 12 for the donuts with the chaser syringes. The Shemo chain also makes donuts with chaser syringes: it’s asking 10 shekels for its version this year. Roladin raised its price, as we said, by one shekel to 12, which, says chain owner Kobi Hakak, is entirely reasonable in his opinion.
Because the cost of high-quality raw materials increased, Hakak explains: “The Roladin collection of sufganiyot includes 45 ingredients.” And, he adds, it’s the highest-quality dessert you can find.