Shoppers have no beef with kosher meat at Costco
By Malka Eisenberg • The Jewish Star
You won’t find the cheapest kosher meat in the Five Towns at a kosher supermarket. It’s actually at Costco on Rockaway Turnpike, believe it or not, vacuum-packed by a new sister brand of Empire Kosher Poultry, and jointly supervised by the OU and Star-K.
“Costco has taken a variety of cuts as tests into their Brooklyn and Five Towns stores to see how well they do,” said Elie Rosenfeld, a spokesman for EKB Kosher Beef, LLC of Mifflintown, PA.
First-cut brisket, rib steaks, ground beef and chuck roast are available in “vacuum-packed packaging, so the quality is just as fresh as if they went into the butcher and the butcher cut it that day,” Rosenfeld claimed.
Shoppers at the Lawrence Costco offered exclamations like, “Wow!” and “It’s amazing!” earlier this week as they clustered around refrigerator cases marked “Kosher” that were filled with factory-packed kosher meat and fresh poultry. The chicken is standard Empire fare, under the supervision of the Orthodox Union and KAJ.
A two-pack of chuck steak weighing 2.13 lbs., with each steak individually wrapped, was for sale at $5.99 a pound. A whole chicken, cut in eighths, weighing 2.58 lbs., cost $2.29 a pound.
“The members educated me, they told me what items to get,” said Adam Self, general manager of the Costco on Rockaway Turnpike for the past three years, and a veteran of half a dozen other Costco stores in New York and New Jersey.
Kosher consumers have made “a lot of requests,” he said.
“Before, we were so out of tune with the guidelines. We had kosher products all along next to the non-kosher, even pork. Members pulled me aside, saying that we need to do this together. They told me, ‘don’t put the meat with the dairy items.’ They let me know in a big way. It’s exciting. The members are very excited. They expressed a lot of appreciation, there’s lots of communication and member feedback on everything. There are lots of requests asking for more kosher offerings.”
Self estimates that he talks to thirty to forty Costco members who keep kosher on a weekly basis. Among the things he’s learned, he said, “There are a great number of certifications; some mean very little and some mean a lot.”
As his education about the kosher marketplace has progressed, the Lawrence Costco has brought in various kosher baked goods and holiday items, including a line of kosher-for-Passover products. Shavuot caught him unawares, Self admitted with exasperation, noting that he needs a Jewish calendar. “The shelves were picked clean,” and he couldn’t replenish in time.
Last November, Tnuva, a brand of Israel cheese, became the first kosher product line he brought in at the request of Costco members. “It did so well as a category that the president of Tnuva had to come by to see for himself,” Self said. He is looking into adding Cholov Yisrael milk, frozen gefilte fish and Amnon’s frozen pizza to his store but as with everything at Costco, price is all-important.
“We can’t do any of this without the right pricing,” Self stressed. “There’s a 20-30% savings for members against the market. They see what it’s selling for and have to bring it in at lower than that.”
“We don’t certify the stores,” said Rabbi Seth Mandel of the Orthodox Union. Kosher beef at Costco is “always packaged at the plant. If it’s opened or the package is destroyed then it is no longer certified by us.”
“Costco won’t take it unless it has a certain quality level,” said Israela Perlitsh of Woodmere, and a store member. “It’s convenient, a great price and if something is wrong with the product you can return it. I’m impressed; it makes good business sense and shows that they are very attuned to the customer; that they are going so out of the way for the Jewish community. I still want to give the frum stores business; always give business to the frum community.”
“It’s a nice addition to our kosher shopping in this wonderful neighborhood,” said Mrs. Bal Frankel, a Five Towns resident. She hasn’t yet seen it for herself but is hoping the idea of kosher beef and poultry catches on at the Costco she frequents during her annual stay in Florida.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Norma Tishberg, a resident of Belle Harbor, and a frequent Costco and Brach’s shopper. “They should look for more kosher things, more parve kosher baked goods. People who are shopping there will buy meat occasionally.”