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Top grocery chain suspends site that offered cheaper goods to ultra-Orthodox

Shufersal CEO vows to come up with ‘new model of operations’ after report highlighted supermarket’s offering of identical products for less on ‘mehadrin’ website

Shufersal CEO Itzhak Aberkohen speaks in a video statement released on November 5, 2021. (Screen capture)
Shufersal CEO Itzhak Aberkohen speaks in a video statement released on November 5, 2021. (Screen capture)

The CEO of Israel’s largest supermarket chain vowed Thursday to immediately shut down a website that offered cheaper products to ultra-Orthodox consumers after a public outcry.

A Channel 12 news report this week 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.

“I decided to shut down the activities on the ‘mehadrin’ website,” Shufersal CEO Itzhak Aberkohen said in a video statement.

He vowed to “freeze the site for a period of time, study the issue in depth and afterward come out with a new model of operations,” asserting that issues of “transparency and fairness” were very important to Shufersal and to him personally.

Aberkohen, who said the discount website was aimed at customers with stringent kosher standards and large families, acknowledged the move was in lieu of extending the discounts to all Shufersal customers.

The grocery chain’s decision to suspend the discount website came after the television report sparked a stir among its customers and the head of Knesset’s Economic Affairs Committee said he would order the CEOs of Shufersal and other chains to appear before the panel for a special discussion on grocery prices.

In its initial response to the report, Shufersal had 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.”

It also noted that while the site was not marketed to the general public and few outside the ultra-Orthodox community appeared to know about it, anybody could shop there.

Illustrative: People outside a Shufersal supermarket in Safed on April 6, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

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

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

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