The good news for kosher markets is the gradual return of normal life. Customers are venturing into stores with greater confidence. Orders are increasing for shul kiddushes, home parties and events. But the aftereffects of the pandemic tsunami continue to make ripples in grocery store operations.
At Cedar Market in Teaneck there are still shortages from many vendors and certain brands have stopped production on slower-moving items, David Bodner wrote in an email interview. “It is a daily struggle to secure products, but our team is doing our best to meet the needs of our customers.” The biggest change is a “mask optional” policy for in-store shoppers.
With locations in Clifton, Queens, Lakewood, Lawrence and Scarsdale, Seasons Kosher Supermarket has followed both CDC rules and the needs of each community. Mayer Gold, VP of operations, said that masks are coming off, faster in some areas than others, and store traffic has increased. Catering orders never stopped but they are getting larger. “A year ago we had orders for 20 people; now they’re bigger,” he said. “We’re getting away from the lockdown.”
Online ordering and delivery were ramped up for the pandemic and still in demand. Gold said that people are now used to ordering online and many still want the convenience of home delivery. “We’ve doubled down on our efforts,” he noted. Seasons has “enhanced and improved” pre-packaged ready-to-go foods. With people going back to school and work, there’s a greater need for take-along items and snacks.
Supply-chain disruptions are causing some problems. Gold said a few weeks ago delivery of Coca-Cola was delayed. The bottling company was short on employees and there was a shortage of drivers. Increased costs in fuel are passed into product pricing. Prices for meat and poultry have gone up 20%.
Gold said they are already thinking about how to order for the upcoming holidays. With travel opening up, orders have to be placed based on estimating whether more people will be going to Israel, now that travel is opening up, or be home like last year, only this time with company. By looking at trends now, Seasons is planning to meet the challenge.
At Glatt Express, online ordering, curbside pick-up and home delivery are continuing along with increased store traffic. Dani Secemski, director of operations, said kiddush orders are picking up, with some still asking for boxed portions while others are back to platters. He noted supply chain problems but said that by staying well stocked, any blips in product deliveries are minimized.
Lazy Bean Café is “totally back,” said Secemski. Indoor seating, halted during the pandemic, has been back since allowed by law. Outdoor seating has been a great success and will continue. For the hot, humid days of summer ahead, Lazy Bean will have mist machines under umbrellas. “Outside seating creates a nice environment and an enjoyable atmosphere,” he said. The café has increased its offerings of healthier items including cauliflower crust pizza, along with the regular variety, and more attention to items for special diets.
Mali Baer, director of marketing and customer care at Grand & Essex, said they are celebrating the return to normalcy. “It’s wonderful to see people who haven’t been in the store for a year, coming back. They’re so happy to take their masks off. There’s a feeling in the store almost like it (the pandemic) never happened.”
Online ordering and deliveries continue for those who like the convenience and people with medical issues who can’t be in big, public places. Customers who like to see what they’re buying and choose items themselves are happy to return to in-person shopping. “It balances out,” said Baer. Catering has picked up, returning to pre-pandemic levels. In a follow-up email she wrote, “We are thrilled to be part of the community’s life events. Our biggest ‘problem’ b”H is to keep up with the catering demands for all these wonderful simchas!”
The end of pandemic restrictions is allowing Grand & Essex to return to its most exciting project: a major expansion. Construction has resumed on incorporating the space once taken by Deli Mart and half the space that had been Wine Country. The other half is now occupied by Vineyard. When completed, there will be an entrance connecting Grand & Essex with the separately owned wine store. The construction, as with the addition of the Little Italy pizza shop, is being managed to minimize any inconvenience to customers.
“Along with some exciting additions, departments will be bigger and aisles will be longer, allowing us to give customers more of what they want,” said Baer. She is looking forward to the store once again hosting special events like cooking demos. “Once we have more space we can be as creative as we want to be, with new and exciting fun things for the community.”
By Bracha Schwartz