Pittsburgh Jewess prepares for costliest Passover in decades

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As Pittsburgh Jews clean up their hamantaschen crumbs, thoughts immediately turn to Passover. But with inflation hitting a 40-year high in February, next month’s holidays will be anything but an exodus from increased spending.

Squirrel Hill resident Rochel Shlomo has worked in food service for 30 years.

“It was never like this,” she says.

Shlomo is vice president of sales at Sampo, a full-service wholesale kosher and specialty food distributor serving western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. The day she spoke to the Chronicle, Shlomo read bills dating back to 2020. “The same item is increasing week after week,” she said. “It’s frightening.”

Shlomo pointed out the cost of canned goods. A year ago, 24 cans of corn cost a distributor $17.75. This year it’s $24.80,” she said. “It has nothing to do with kosher. These are just crazy increases.

In a March 10 report, the Labor Department noted that the consumer price index has risen 7.9% over the past year, with gasoline, housing and food prices rising. contributed to the increase.

Shlomo said when people go to the pump and see fuel at nearly $4 a gallon, it’s no surprise that other costs have gone up.

“America gets its food by truck. It’s not buzzed,” she said.

Sampo is now paying nearly double what it did last year to fuel its trucks, Shlomo said, but the other problem is labor shortages. “A salesman told me, ‘the chickens come every day, the workers don’t.'”

“DHL Freight Truck” by Deutsche Post DHL is marked with CC BY-ND 2.0

Yehuda Fink is the CFO of David Elliot Poultry, a third-generation company based in Scranton.

Fink told the Chronicle that since the start of the pandemic, David Elliot has offered workers a 401(k), referral bonuses, “anything to get more people in,” but the effects of the “big quit” continue. .

“Before, we used around 90 employees on a daily basis. We haven’t been able to get it above 80 more than a few times in the last 18 months,” he said.

The absence of workers plays out in all sorts of ways. Take chicken feet, for example, which require extra labor to process. Without workers capable of preparing the product, David Elliot sends the chicken feet for recycling. So instead of selling a product above $6 a pound wholesale, the company ends up collecting “a few cents a pound” from a rendering company, Fink said. “There’s not much we can do about it.”

Another problem is the packaging.

Fink said what used to be a “two-week delay has become an eight-week delay.”

Because David Elliot has to wait almost two months for the boxes, the process is inefficient.

“We have additional costs because we’re using the wrong size boxes, but we don’t have an alternative because we want things to keep moving around the factory,” Fink said.

Then there are the chickens themselves.

Fink said “the breeding cycle for chickens is longer than 10 weeks, which means you need to know what you’re doing 12 weeks later.”

In recent years, in preparation for Passover or other holidays, David Elliot has built up his inventory to meet increased demand. The company usually aims to have “1-2 weeks of production in the freezer, but we don’t really have a day of production in the freezer and the reason for that is that our production is down and demand is at its peak. heaps,” Fink mentioned. “We can’t do more chicken and unfortunately it becomes a big snowball rolling down the hill.”

Photo by Nataly Hanin via iStock

Product availability was something Pittsburgh-based caterer Moshe Siebzener worried about weeks ago.

Those fears have subsided, but only to a degree, Siebzener said. “It appears that our product is available, but the price is currently unknown.”

Siebzener said he and Deena Ross of Creative Kosher Catering are still waiting to hear from suppliers about costs, and that without knowing how much chicken, beef or even cream cheese, it’s hard to create a menu. .

“The prices are just crazy now,” Siebzener said.

Since February 2021, ground beef is up 16%. Boneless chicken breast increased nearly 18%, the Labor Department reported March 10.

Siebzener said he recently spoke to his supplier who told him that despite the kosher price of Passover margarine $90 for 30 pounds last year, the same product could likely top $130 this year.

Aryeh Markovic, co-owner of Murray Avenue Kosher, said he was well aware of the kosher food price increases for Passover, but there was “no reason to panic.”

Prices fluctuate, “it happens every year,” Markovic said. “Most things don’t go up an exorbitant amount.”

Ross said she’s been trying to “adjust” with increased costs both in her catering business and as she prepares for her personal seders.

“I consider this a vacation for my house,” she said. “At our seder, we take seriously the idea of ​​Kol dichfin yeitei v’yeichol, kol ditzrich yeitei v’yifsach.”

The Aramaic words, which are included in the Haggadah, translate as “Whoever is hungry must come to eat, whoever is in need must come and participate in the Passover sacrifice.”

In years past, Ross has hosted 15-18 people for seders. She said the price hike won’t increase the way she celebrates the holidays this year.

“We have older people, younger people, people who don’t have families,” she said. “If anyone needs a seder, we’ll get it.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be contacted at [email protected]

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