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Report on supermarket’s deep discounts for ultra-Orthodox sparks outcry

Israel’s largest supermarket chain was under fire Wednesday after it was accused of offering online shoppers from the ultra-Orthodox community cheaper prices on some products than those marketed to the general public.

A Channel 12 news report found that goods offered on Shufersal Online, an online delivery grocery service run by the Shufersal grocery chain, were more expensive than the same products found on a second website it runs aimed at ultra-Orthodox consumers, which carries only products that have strict “mehadrin” kosher certification.

According to the channel, a frozen pizza was NIS 6 ($1.90) cheaper when bought from Shufersal Mehadrin Direct, frozen salmon dropped from NIS 64.90 ($20.80) on the regular site to NIS 34.90 ($11.20) on the mehadrin one, and a jelly doughnut there was only NIS 2.90 ($0.93), compared to NIS 5.90 ($1.89) on Shufersal’s main portal.

The report sparked a stir among a number of the chain’s customers; Blue and White MK Michael Biton, head of the Knesset Finance Committee, said he would order the CEOs of Shufersal and other chains to appear before the panel for a special discussion on grocery prices, according to the channel.

“There’s no reason a person that eats kosher should pay 30 to 40 percent less than someone who keeps a different kind of kosher,” he said.

A number of consumers complained to the store on social media about the price gap and declared they would no longer shop there.

“I’ve shopped at Shufersal for years. I’m secular. I expect that you’ll compensate me with a lot of money for all the years you cheated me,” one user named Eli Levin wrote to the chain on its Facebook page.

In a widely distributed statement, Shufersal said it “has a number of different retail formats, with a variety of different products, different pricing and different sale codes, so there’s no comparing between them.”

While the Shufersal Mehadrin Direct site is not marketed to the general public, and few outside the Ultra-Orthodox community appear to know about it, the chain noted that anybody could shop there regardless of race, religion or creed.

The site offers a discount on many products, but it also has a smaller selection, since it only carries products with a mehadrin certification, comprising a fraction of what is offered in most of its stores.

A customer service representative told Channel 12 that consumers in the past had complained when products were switched upon delivery for similar items with a certification considered by the Haredi community to be less stringent.

Grocery prices in Israel are seen as a perennial concern for many in the country, where the cost of living is consistently rated as a top issue for voters, trumping even security matters.

The last decade alone has seen major protests sparked by accusations of price gouging on seemingly mundane products, such as cottage cheese and Milky pudding cups.

Source: TOI

Header: Israeli produce marked as such in the supermarket chain Shufersal. December 2, 2020 (Shoshanna Solomon/Times of Israel)