Photo Credit: Hadas Parush / Flash 90
A deliveryman carries groceries from the Shufersal super market to an apartment building in Jerusalem, March 29, 2020.

Since the outbreak of the Corona pandemic in Israel, online purchases from supermarkets have skyrocketed as many Israelis have started to do their weekly shopping for food and houseware items on the website of their neighborhood vendor.

Shufersal (Americans living in Israel call it “Supersol” because it makes better sense) is the leading supermarket chain in the land, both on the ground and virtually. It is probably the most expensive chain, save for the boutique markets, but in return, shoppers usually get clean aisles, friendly staff, and well-stocked shelves. The chain’s website experienced some well-publicized hiccups when it was launched, but by now it is a model of virtual shopping – a little more expensive but offering competent packing and timely and reliable deliveries. At least that’s what we hear.

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Enter Israel’s politicians, specifically Chairman of the Knesset Economics Committee, MK Michael Bitton (Blue&White), who discovered that alongside its official and popular website, Shufersal operates another website called “Yashir La’Mehadrin” (Directly to the Mehadrin), which caters mainly to Haredi shoppers and offers them the same products at half price.

“We will be required to monitor food chains and the manipulations of consumer prices that take place within the food vending. There is no reason that one person who eats kosher pay 30%-40% less than one who eats food under different supervision.”

To an American ear, the idea of lawmakers interfering with the pricing policy of an independent business sounds outlandish. Also, a scant examination of the Yashir La’Mehadrin online store reveals that it requires registration and functions as a shopping club – insiders get better prices. Also, the list of communities that receive deliveries from the cheaper Shufersal online store includes non-Haredi locations such as Or Yehuda and Rehovot.

News 12 reported that at least 1,100 items are being sold at a 10% discount on the “Haredi” website, compared to the regular one, 665 items are 15% cheaper, and 320 are 20% cheaper. Here are some specific examples:

Italian frozen pizza is sold at Shufersal Direct for NIS 15.90 – and at Shufersal Online for NIS 21.90 – a difference of 37%.

A regular large sufgania (yes, it’s that time of the year) is sold at Yashir Le’Mehadrin for NIS 2.90, and at Shufersal Online for NIS 5.90 – a difference of 103%.

Frozen salmon steak is sold at Shufersal Yashir Le’Mehadrin for NIS 39.90, and at Shufersal Online at NIS 64.90 – a difference of 62%.

A liter of olive oil from Dean Marketing is sold at Yashir Le’Mehadrin for NIS 29.90, and at Shufersal Online for NIS 39.90 – a difference of 33%.

So, first of all, if you’re a consumer and you are impressed by these stunning savings, your immediate response will most likely not be: those so and so Haredim, we must make sure they don’t get these benefits – it would probably be, thank you, Jewish Press, for giving us the link to the much cheaper online supermarket, we’re going to register right now.

But you see, Israeli politicians are nothing like American consumers, either in Israel or on the other side of the pond. Committee chairman Bitton elicited the harsh opinion of one Hila Knister, a consumer expert, who said: “If a certain chain can sell cheaply to a certain community and still make a profit, there’s no reason why they should not sell to the whole public at the same price. Then why is the price different?”

The price may be different for a variety of reasons, many of which are related to the difference between serving a public that makes its buying choices whenever it pleases, as compared to shoppers who agree to be restricted to one daily delivery. There’s also the fact that in order to appeal to the Haredi consumers, probably the most sophisticated in Israel, with access to Kolel stores and shopping co-ops, Shufersal has had to sacrifice profits in the first phase, to lure in the customers.

But above all – what business is it of government how much does a supermarket chain charge its customers in different locations? Shufersal is not a monopoly that should be supervised by the government. It competes against several big chains and a myriad mom and pop stores – if consumers think Shufersal charges them too much for their watermelon, there’s a Rami Levy store around the corner.

This is not as bad as deciding to fight off folks looking to invest their money in apartments by raising their tax to 8% and thus causing the construction industry to topple – but it comes from the exact same philosophy of social engineering and interference in the way the market makes its choices.

And that’s why we must have one million American olim in Israel – to teach local politicians that if the market ain’t broke you don’t fix it.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.