By Menachem Lubinsky, CEO Lubicom Marketing & Consulting
While the rumors about food shortages for Pesach are rampant, the truth is that the more-than-ample supply has been nothing short of a miracle. It is important to dispel the myths that have been circulating that a shortage of food for Pesach is either already the case or is looming. It is essential to set the record straight to avoid putting our tzibbur into an unnecessary panic. It is enough that we have to deal with this unprecedented mageifah without adding rumors, mistruths and half-truths. The thought of shuttered botei medrash and yeshivos is enough to put a chill into all of us, so the thought of food shortages is frightening.
To begin with, the kosher food industry’s preparations for Pesach did not begin 2-3 weeks ago when the Coronavirus panic first set in. Factories all over the world began production as early as November and December, as is customary for them in any given year. Most stores had begun receiving deliveries in February with the idea of setting up the Pesach aisles, sections or separate stores right after Purim, as they usually do. Farms and schechita never ceased operations for even one day. Neither did companies that produce dairy and other perishables. So the thought that production had somehow suffered is simply not true.
With the closure of most Pesach hotel programs there is a great deal that has changed, but it did not affect the food supply. True, a good percentage of the kosher food was destined for programs all over the world. Indeed, some shipments were already underway. But for the most part most of the supply to the programs never materialized, only adding to the food available at retail. It by far takes care of all of the people who are suddenly forced to make Pesach at home, which is another reason that people give why they forecast food shortages.
To date, kosher retailers have come forward in a big way. They have made every effort to assure their customers that there is ample supply. They have stepped up home delivery and have made special provisions for the most vulnerable (the elderly most susceptible to the virus) not to mingle with other customers. They have made sure they are fully staffed and, most importantly, have restocked shelves as fast as they can. A few stores complained that there was unnecessary hording particularly of things like toilet paper, soap, paper towels, and more. But the few that had shortages said they tried to restock as fast as they could. In any event, these items were in short supply in the general market as well, even as manufacturers showed warehouses full of product, which obviously did not stop the hording.
Fears of a matzo shortage at this point are also unfounded. Most bakeries have been baking for upward of 3-4 months. Some said they had already shipped to programs worldwide, but for the most part they are continuing to bake on a daily basis, in most cases with workers wearing protective gear. Stores have already received their matzo shipments, and most are not expecting any shortages.
According to Royal Wine (Kedem) there will be an ample supply of wines and grape juice for Pesach. Amazingly, says Yochi Herzog of Royal, even the wines from hard-hit Italy like Bartenura are being produced and exported. The wines have been in stock for a long time and are not like perishable foods that get shipped right before Pesach. Kudos to the mashgichim and rabbonim who are making sure that production of the kosher wines goes uninterrupted. Carmel Winery sent out an e-mail that it is business as usual at the winery. But that goes for all the wineries in Israel and elsewhere.
No one should minimize the catastrophic effects on many Jews. The losses sustained by Pesach programs cannot even be calculated yet. The effect on the working class and small businesses may be devastating. It is certainly a time to look over one’s shoulder and to look in on a neighbor. There never was a time when demonstrating concern for a fellow Jew was more important. Small things like checking in with an elderly neighbor before going shopping are critical.
It is, of course, impossible to predict how long this situation will continue. Despite the fact that all non-essential business and workers have been ordered to close and sit home, our food supply is essential and our kosher community has stepped up to the challenge. This is not the time to criticize a store for not carrying a certain brand. Nor should anyone fret if a delivery is delayed by an hour or so. We have to be grateful that despite the enormity of the pandemic that there is ample food and that there are people like we have in the kosher food community who above all else are baalei chesed.
It is perhaps also a time to inject some extra kavanah into the phrase hazon es olamo kulo betuvo beechen ubechesed uverachamim. May we all be zocheh to a quick end to this gezeirah!
Menachem Lubinsky is President of Lubicom Business Consulting and the leading expert on the kosher food industry.