Know your customers, try to meet their needs and work to keep their trust. In this age of mass- production, mass-marketing and standardization, concepts like these may seem old-fashioned; better suited to the neighborhood grocer of a half-century ago than a modern supermarket.

Yet, It’s precisely these “old-fashioned” ideals and values that give ShopRite supermarkets market leadership in the communities they serve – and earned the stores a special place in the lives of their kosher customers.

The five states served by the 200 or so ShopRite supermarkets – New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Delaware – are home to more kosher consumers than any other region in the nation, but geography tells only part of the story. ShopRite’s success with kosher customers results more from a commitment to them.

This includes providing the same level of quality, value and variety in private-label kosher as with every other ShopRite brand product. About 1,100 of the 3,000-plus total products sold under the ShopRite brand are certified kosher, a vast majority by the Orthodox Union. All ShopRite private label kosher items are listed in the “Kosher Products Directory,” a free booklet updated annually.

In 2005, the “ShopRite Kosher” brand made its debut with challah and challah rolls for Rosh Hashana; matzot were added for the following Passover, and the brand now includes chicken broth and all beef glatt franks. Last fall, ShopRite began selling certified kosher fresh fish in four stores as a pilot program, with hopes of future expansion.

The decision to carry such a high volume and wide variety of kosher private-label foods is founded in recognition that doing what is best for the customer is ultimately best for the company, said Joe Colalillo, CEO of Wakefern Food Corp., the marketing and distribution arm of the ShopRite cooperative.

“As a leader and an innovator in the marketplace, it should only be expected that we’re going to be a leader in private-label kosher,” Colalillo said. “We wanted to give our kosher customers a good value product without compromising on either kosher standards or product quality.”

As with all of ShopRite’s private-label products, those certified as kosher must pass rigorous standards of quality and taste before they can be sold in stores. The company is equally careful to choose only the most reputable agencies to certify its products as kosher.

ShopRite’s innovative approach to kosher extends beyond the products themselves. The stores’ comprehensive kosher marketing program includes twice-monthly kosher swing pages in the weekly circular; special circulars for Shavout and Purim, in addition to Chanukah and Passover; in-store advertisements; a Jewish calendar, and special publications for Chanukah, Passover and Shavuot.

Along those lines, ShopRite of Lakewood, New Jersey, more than 20 years ago introduced a new concept to supermarket shopping, the “Kosher Experience. ”Where kosher foods had previously been found in small sections of various aisles throughout the store, the Kosher Experience consolidated kosher products in a “store within a store,” while also expanding the store’s kosher offerings.

Now in more than a dozen stores, the Kosher Experience includes full-service meat, fish and deli departments that include ready-to-eat foods.

“One of our ShopRite members, Richard Saker, really led the way when he created the ShopRite ‘Kosher Experience’ at Lakewood,” said Colalillo. “He’s one of the owners, along with Steve Ravitz and Rich McMenimen, who’ve been instrumental in raising the bar and bringing service to the kosher consumer to a new level. No other supermarket company comes close to doing what these companies have done. That kind of innovative leadership is the essence of our co-op’s strength.”

Providing kosher customers the same one-stop-shopping convenience enjoyed by every other shopper is simply another example of the neighborhood grocer philosophy that dates back to ShopRite’s origins.

The ShopRite story begins in 1946, when eight struggling grocers in Newark, New Jersey, banded together as Wakefern, forming the name from parts of four of the founders’ last names. The eight combined their purchasing, warehousing and delivery, and marketing activities to cut costs – and passed the savings along to customers.

In 1951, they renamed their stores under the ShopRite banner, and positioned the stores as “the low-cost leader.” More than half a century later, Wakefern is the nation’s largest grocery cooperative, with 44 members, more than 40,000 employees and one of the nation’s largest fleets of delivery trucks.

Even with this remarkable growth, local ownership continues to ensure that each ShopRite reflects the community in which it is located – and underscores the bond of trust between a store and its customers. And when it comes to kosher consumers, especially, the ShopRite brand and hechsher together on a label help further that trust.

“Our customers know the ShopRite name and they associate it with quality and value,” Mr. Colalillo said. “It’s just good business sense for us to carry that confidence over into the kosher marketplace – where customer trust and confidence mean everything.”

OU Kosher Staff