Super shopper Fiona Leckerman searches for the Pesach story in a supermarket
Have you ever wondered what the Israelites would’ve made of Tesco? It’s an abstract thought, I know, but on entering a store this week I noticed there was enough matzah to fill an aircraft hangar, yet our ancestors had to cross the desert and wait for the sun to bake their flour and water mixture before they got a bite of a cracker.
All I have to do is walk across a car park to stock up on Rakusens or anything else I need for a chag that turns sensible women into headless hiners – that’s Yiddish for chicken in case you don’t know. Truth is we forget how easy we’ve got it compared to our forefathers, but mostly mothers who had a tough time when it came to shopping for a pesach meal.
With no Sainsbury superstores in the shtetl, there was nowhere to pop to for Osem soup mix or gefilte fish. First you had to catch a fish, gefilte it yourself as well as growing all your own vegetables in hard freezing ground and sacrificing a favourite lamb in order to have a spare shank bone for the seder plate. Let’s just say it was anything but a whizz round with the trolley at Asda to check out the Gilberts, the Hoffmans and Mrs Elswood.
Interestingly, I do have memories of the whole family piling into the car to shop in Golders Green for our seder, but ever since the supermarkets woke up to the fact that food is synonymous with Jewish festivals, they have gone out of their way to cater for our needs and I can now purchase pesachdik produce along with the Persil.
At my local Tesco, the choice of kosher products is over-whelming; in fact it’s so colourful and inviting what with all the cakes, sweets and ready-made macaroons, it’s the pesachdik equivalent of Willy Wonka’s factory. As I can only assume there are no Jewish oompa loompas stocking the shelves to bursting at night, who does make it happen?
As a regular at Tesco Borehamwood, which along with Brent Cross and Cheetham Hill has the largest kosher sections in the UK, the company was happy to give me the inside track on their know-how, not least because founder Jack Cohen was one of us.
The company works very closely with a panel from the Jewish community which advises them on what the customer needs. This has resulted in the launch, last August, of an improved range, which has seen a huge uplift in sales. They reviewed and updated their frozen sections, with 80 percent of their grocery section being new. They also have plans to introduce a fresh chilled range in the summer.
For this Pesach, Tesco has sourced more than 200 products and hope to win the supermarket battle of the Pesach sales by providing “a fantastic range, supported by great promotions and competitive prices”. To tempt us further they have even extended their Pesach palate to include disposable tableware.
Hot on Tesco’s heels is Sainsbury’s, who also supplies Jewish consumers with kosher food in 100 of its stores, 15 of which have enlarged ranges and these include Golders Green, Finchley Road, Stanmore, Edgware and Hendon. Sainsbury’s changes the whole range for Pesach with 150 new lines being added and for the first time this year they have also included disposable table wear, too.
Their key lines remain matzah, wine, grape juice and matzah meal. Stand out products are the specially sourced kosher for Pesach toothpaste and washing up liquid.
They will also stock bottled water, pasta, soft drinks and they specifically bring in a Pesach version of the marble and chocolate cakes which they stock all year.
Sainsbury’s holds listening groups with its Jewish colleagues to further understand the range requirements for the Pesach season adding: “We know how important Passover is to our Jewish customers and are proud to serve our communities with the best offering we can – that includes the very special time of Passover.”
Not one to miss a trick or fail to attend to their customers’ needs Waitrose is certainly not slacking when it comes to Pesach, and has been selling products for the past six weeks, with the biggest ranges of products held at the Temple Fortune, Finchley Road, Brent Cross and Mill Hill branches.
Matzah meal can be bought in some of their Little Waitrose stores, too, and should you find your bottle of Maneschewitz has run dry before the four cups have been drank, the Waitrose store on the Channel Islands will stock a replacement for you which is very thoughtful. As Waitrose explained: “We know our customers like to shop around, so we ensure we give them as much visibility of the range, to help them plan for Passover.”
So much information, yet I still hadn’t even started my own Pesach shop, so I headed back to where I started at Tesco Borehamwood. Rather than roam the aisles alone (chance would be a fine thing), I invited some friends and family to join me and that’s when the fun started. Piling our trolleys with matzah and grape juice, we then stopped at the dried fruit to debate the best way to make compote.
Our team grew as other Jewish shoppers joined our party and in keeping with the zeitgeist, I decided to document the moment, Ellen DeGeneres–style with an Oscar inspired group selfie.It would have been nice to have Brad and Angelina in the frame, but we had Mrs Elswood and Baron Herzog instead.
And as the story of Pesach is about freedom, for me there is no greater symbol of this than walking in to any supermarket and being able to pick up a packet of matzah and some charoset.
It seems we’ve come a long way from carrying unleavened bread on our backs.