Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

7 Nissan 5760 - April 12, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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New Research on Marketing in U.S. Sheds Light on Chometz After Pesach

by Mordecai Plaut

Mr. Yosef Herman, who gets a large share of credit for the current worldwide revival in the lechatchila approach to keeping the mitzva of chodosh, has found a new field of research: chometz she'ovar olov haPesach.

Chometz that has spent Pesach in Jewish ownership is forbidden for use after Pesach, and is known as chometz she'ovar olov haPesach. Many Jews try to dispose of all their Pesach in advance, but many others sell their chometz to a non-Jew for the duration of the yom tov. Much effort has been spent in Israel in recent years on ensuring that the contract is written as a legally enforceable one to make the sale a real one for the duration of Pesach, even if it is bought back after the holiday.

The problem of owning chometz before Pesach is very serious for a Jewish-owned business that may have hundreds of thousands or even many millions of dollars worth of chometz products in its inventory before Pesach. Jewish owners have varying degrees of sensitivity to the issue, depending on their own convictions and the convictions of their customers. Some sell their chometz and close down on Pesach; others sell their chometz but continue to do business as usual on Pesach; others ignore the issue entirely.

After Pesach, everyone knows what the status of his own property is, but there has been a considerable amount of ignorance about the status of chometz that is in the normal distribution chain of wholesalers and retail stores. It is important to know how products pass through the system, how long they take to pass through, and who owns them at the various stages of the process.

Yosef Herman has now gathered a considerable amount of the information and released it to the public. His goal was merely to gather the information and to present it to the public. He does not make halachic recommendations or decisions. From past experience in his work on chodosh, it can be expected that the availability of reliable information about what is happening can have a considerable impact on how individuals behave, and eventually how large companies react.

It should be stressed that the information was gathered in the northeast U.S., an area with a great concentration of Orthodox Jews, but it is not known how similar other areas even in the U.S. are to the northeast, and of course the applicability of the results to the rest of the world is also unknown.

The two main issues that Mr. Herman researched are: how long products spend in the distribution chain, and who owns them at the various stages in the chain.

From his work on chodosh Mr. Herman has considerable knowledge of the codes that all producers put on their output that indicate the date of manufacture. Using this, he surveyed the goods found in various stores to determine how much time had passed from their date of manufacture. He found that "for the supermarkets we surveyed the packages were about 127 days old, measured from the time of production at the factory." This means, "on the average," that all products on supermarket shelves for four months (until after Tisha B'Av!) were manufactured before Pesach.

He also found that the packages at the back of shelves are much older than those at the front. The stores are supposed to rotate their stocks and put the freshest products at the back, but they did not do so in the stores he surveyed. In the stores he surveyed, packages at the back were an average of 103 days older than those at the front. This implies that by carefully selecting the freshest products, a customer could buy products manufactured after Pesach much sooner than four months.

Another important issue is the ownership of the products from the time of manufacture to the time of sale. There are two major stages in the progress of the products from manufacture to consumer: the final retail merchant and a wholesale distributor.

Mr. Herman's report includes detailed ownership and management information for the major food merchants in the northeast United States. Some of these large companies are active in other areas as well. Ownership changes all the time, and many companies that were originally founded by Jews are now owned and managed by non-Jews. In other cases even large chains are really co-ops in which the stores are individually owned. In this case the ownership of each store has to be ascertained individually, and it is also relevant to find out whether the majority of the stores are owned by Jews or non-Jews.

However, one of the biggest surprises from the research is that the store is not such an important factor. In general, the stores keep an inventory of only a few days' supply of the products they sell. They rely on timely delivery of the goods from one or more major wholesalers.

Mr. Herman found that three major food wholesalers, including the largest, are owned by Jews. Furthermore at least two -- including C&S Wholesalers (the largest) and Di Giorgio which claims to be the largest in metropolitan New York City -- are privately owned. It was found that two sell their chometz and Mr. Herman was unable to determine if Di Giorgio sells its chometz. All of them continue to do business during Pesach thereby undermining the sale.

These findings indicate that there is a lot more work to do in this area. It may also prove important to find out what the parallel situation is in other parts of the U.S. and in other Jewish communities around the world.

The situation in Eretz Yisroel is certainly much different since many companies specifically produce for the chareidi community after Pesach. Nonetheless, it has never been thoroughly checked out.

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