Strictly Kosher, for the Masses

The large supermarket chains have channeled significant resources over the past year into developing the ultra-Orthodox market, changing the face of a sector that is traditionally controlled by privately owned discount and neighborhood grocery stores.

The strictly kosher Zol-Po, run by Clubmarket, has been successful in attracting more than just the ultra-Orthodox, and it has shown competing chains the potential in the strictly kosher market.

Blue Square launched Shefa Shuk, which now boasts almost 40 branches. Although Supersol has not developed its own subsidiary chain for this market, the supermarket giant has joined forces with Zol-Po franchisees and asked them to manage its branches in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

A significant share of sales for Blue Square and Clubmarket currently come from their ultra-Orthodox chains. Shefa Shuk, which also operates as Blue Square's regular discount chain, attracted 4 percent of the entire bar-coded market in the third quarter, up from 3 percent last year. Zol-Po has accounted for 3.5 percent of this market so far this year.

As the market share controlled by these chains grows, so does the demand on suppliers for products with strictly kosher certification.

The opening or conversion of branches for the ultra-Orthodox subsidiary chains has led them to areas that are not specifically ultra-Orthodox, and it has attracted both secular and mainstream religious consumers.

The top 10 items purchased by ultra-Orthodox consumers differ from those of the general population. Market research by AC Nielsen found that while the general population buys far more milk in cartons (third place on the top 10 list), Coca-Cola in the 1.5-liter bottle (fifth place), Emek hard cheese by weight (seventh place) and Ein Gedi mineral water (ninth place), the ultra-Orthodox prefer milk in bags (fifth place on their top 10), various white spreadable cheeses (second, sixth and eighth places), Telma Cornflakes (seventh place), white sugar (ninth place) and cooking oil (10th place).

The ultra-Orthodox sector constitutes 3 percent of the population in Israel, but AC Nielsen's research found that some 44 percent of the population purchased goods from an ultra-Orthodox chain store at least once over the past year. Only about 23 percent of the shoppers at ultra-Orthodox chains are ultra-Orthodox, while 18 percent are religious, 27 percent are traditional, and 33 percent are secular. Even though the ultra-Orthodox account for only 23 percent of the shoppers, they provide 61 percent of the revenues for these stores.

The ultra-Orthodox buy more basic foods than the rest of the population. While bread is the top-selling category in the general market, it sits in fourth place among the ultra-Orthodox, with savory snack foods, including semi-sweetened snacks, topping their list. Among all shoppers, including the ultra-Orthodox, dairy products and carbonated drinks are the second and third most popular categories. When it comes to breakfast cereals, however, these are in fourth place in the general population and seventh place in the ultra-Orthodox sector.

Yogurt is another example of a luxury item in ultra-Orthodox eyes. Whereas this category is in seventh place in the general population, it is way down in slot 31 among ultra-Orthodox shoppers. Simple leben (cultured milk) on the other hand, is fourth on the list of top 10 items purchased by the ultra-Orthodox, and does not appear at all on the general population's top 10 list.

The popularity of snack foods and carbonated beverages among the ultra-Orthodox population - these categories are on the decline in the general population on account of their unhealthy image - may be attributed to the large number of children in these families.

The promotion of large families in the ultra-Orthodox sector also finds expression in the consumption of disposable diapers and baby wipes. Twenty-five percent of disposable diaper sales come from this sector, which is over-represented in this category. On the other hand, the ultra-Orthodox are under-represented in the category of personal care products.

Another aspect of shopping in which the ultra-Orthodox sector differs from the general population concerns the days of the week when they frequent supermarkets. AC Nielsen's research found that, in general, Thursday and Friday are the biggest shopping days; in the ultra-Orthodox sector, however, shopping carts are fuller on Wednesdays and Thursdays, with Friday sales being considerably lower.