DESERT OASIS

With its vast assortment of fresh kosher foods, Albertsons' new store in suburban Las Vegas reminds a lot of shoppers of distant cities where keeping kosher is easy to do. The No. 1 comment I've heard is they haven't seen anything like it since New York or Chicago, said Dustin Brown, manager of the 54,000-square-foot store that opened Jan. 10 in Henderson, Nev. It's the only full-service kosher supermarket

With its vast assortment of fresh kosher foods, Albertsons' new store in suburban Las Vegas reminds a lot of shoppers of distant cities where keeping kosher is easy to do.

“The No. 1 comment I've heard is they haven't seen anything like it since New York or Chicago,” said Dustin Brown, manager of the 54,000-square-foot store that opened Jan. 10 in Henderson, Nev. “It's the only full-service kosher supermarket in Las Vegas.”

Operated by Supervalu, the store is Albertsons' fifth “Level 1” kosher store, and the only one in the region, Brown said. The store has two bakeries, two meat and two seafood departments.

Las Vegas has one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in the country, so it would seem like a perfect location for a kosher food market, one industry observer noted.

“We see new restaurants there and more new developments being built for people moving out West,” said Menachem Lubinsky, founder of the Kosherfest trade show, and chief executive officer of New York-based Lubicom Marketing Consulting.

Having talked to kosher food purveyors who've seen the store, and officials from Supervalu, Lubinsky said it appears to be reaching a broad base of shoppers.

“It makes the kosher consumer feel they have this huge kosher store without taking away from the broad assortment regular consumers would expect to find,” he said. Supervalu “is looking at it as a model for other types of stores.”

Built from the ground up in the new Anthem Highlands shopping center, the store is billed as the “Kosher Marketplace” in fliers. “We've taken kosher shopping to a whole new level,” the flier stated.

The ad touted the store's signature kosher deli with kosher cold cuts, salads, deli platters as well as fresh kosher fried and rotisserie chicken made on the premises. In the full-service meat department, shoppers can get kosher meat cut fresh throughout the day, and butchers are available to provide special cuts on request.

There's a full-service fish shop offering a large variety of fresh kosher fish, plus kosher sushi made on the premises. The kosher bakery features a large assortment of fresh gourmet breads and cakes, baked at the store, as well as decorated parve cakes. On its website, KosherToday noted the bakery churns out 60 different breads, and the meat department is as large as a kosher butcher shop.

“The strongest departments are meat and seafood, regular and kosher combined,” Brown said. “You go to meat and seafood and there are mobs of people in awe of how things are set up.”

The store carries brands well known to kosher consumers, including Aaron's poultry and meat and Sabra refrigerated dips and salads. The retailer sources items from vendors in Israel, Chicago and New York to appeal to local residents who acquired a taste for certain foods while living in other parts of the country.

Many national kosher food suppliers were on hand for the store's grand opening, which also attracted several reporters from the area's TV stations. Manufacturers and shoppers had kind words for Yakov Yarmove, who developed the kosher stores for Albertsons and continues in that role at Supervalu. Yehuda Shor serves as lead mashgiach at the store, which has a total of three mashgichim from the Orthodox Union supervising the kosher departments.

Shoppers “are loving it,” Brown said. “This morning I had an individual who's from the Ukraine who was here for a birthday. He drove 35 to 40 minutes and bought three carts of kosher products. The kosher customer is driving from 30 minutes to an hour” to shop the store.

The layout was designed to make a fresh statement to shoppers as soon as they walk in the front door. The fresh produce department is the first department customers walk into, with the floral department nearby. The bakery follows the produce department. The store, in an area dotted with multimillion-dollar homes, has an upscale look, with light fixtures from Italy and upgraded finishes.

“When you walk in, it has a nice wide entry way,” said one area resident, who's shopped at the store four times since it opened. “Two double doors open up to the produce department. I think their produce is wonderful. It's very large and spacious.”

The resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said she and her husband are not kosher consumers. The store's proximity to their house — it's three minutes away — appeals to them. In addition to the selection of produce, the shopper said the seafood department impressed her. She picked up some seafood items including jumbo crab claws that were on sale.

“They were fabulous,” she said. “They were to die for. I think the seafood department is very strong. Nice presentation. Big selection. I'll go back there.”

According to the retailer, the store also has a “premium fresh and healthy format,” with upgraded amenities including a store-within-a-store department filled with natural and organic foods, and an international food section. Industry observers believe merchandising kosher with natural and organic items makes a lot of sense since they appeal to many of the same customers.

“Kosher is a lot of natural and organic” food, Brown said. “It's not only for our Jewish clientele but for older folks in the area who want to stay healthy.”

The store attracts a broad mix of shoppers. Kosher consumers, including those willing to drive some distance to buy groceries, wealthy retired professionals in the immediate area, transplants from the Northeast and younger shoppers with children at home are among those who've discovered the market. Brown sees elderly shoppers during the day, mothers in the afternoons and younger people with children shopping for dinner in the evenings.

“There's a large population of elderly” residents, Brown said. “They're very well off in their retirement. Retired CEOs, doctors and lawyers. That's 30% to 40% of our business. In this area there are a lot of folks from back East. There are a lot of requests for items from back East. We have a program in place to locate those things, different vendors we go through.”

About 15 minutes from McCarran Airport and a few minutes from the Strip, the store is in an area of new housing development. One local resident said the store was a welcome addition in the area, which is underserved by food retailers. The store competes with a Vons store and a Smith's. The closest Albertsons is seven miles away, and there's no sign of a Wal-Mart or Costco club store in the immediate area, Brown said.

“Construction's going on every day,” Brown said, referring to the plethora of new homes being built. “Everyone's happy that we're so close.”

Big Appetite

Consumers are hungry for more kosher food.

Shoppers want new products, greater variety of products, meal ideas and recipes according to a study by Evanston, Ill.-based Cannondale Associates.

Interestingly, shoppers also are not driven by deep discounts, the study noted. In fact, retailers that offered steep price cuts did not increase kosher holiday traffic more than stores with lesser discounts.

The study's conclusions were based on results of shopper card transaction data from more than 14 retailers, serving 10 million households. Among the key findings:

  • Kosher shoppers spend about $1,000 more annually than the average buyer.
  • Buyers include Jewish shoppers who use kosher and non-kosher products, and buy kosher food year-round.
  • Non-Jewish consumers represent a growing market. They feel kosher food is superior, and associate kosher products with natural and organic items.

For conventional retailers, the biggest challenge is organizing stores so that shoppers can find kosher foods easily, said Menachem Lubinsky, founder of the Kosherfest trade show and chief executive officer of Lubicom Marketing Consulting. Retailers may carry a large assortment of products but don't give the foods enough visibility.

“They need to flag them or organize [foods] in a way that someone looking for kosher would know where they are,” he said. “There's an opportunity there that they might be missing.”
— L.M.