By R.M. Grossblatt
“Isn’t life a hoot?” Harriet Romano said as she wheeled her cart toward the produce at Fresh Market in the Brighten Park Shopping Center (formerly known as Loehmann’s Plaza) on Wednesday, July 8, opening day.
With soft lighting overhead and the smell of fresh coffee beans in the air, Romano and others were part of the excitement at Fresh Market’s opening. Customers were handed a sample of the store’s famous ground coffee in a reusable plastic bag and a chance to win a $100 gift certificate.
About two miles away, Earth Fare in Emory Point was celebrating its opening. The first 100 customers were lined up outside to win $5 to $500 gift certificates, and everyone entered the store carrying a white cotton bag decorated with Earth Fare’s logo of a plump tomato.
Gifts are great, but many of the Jewish shoppers were interested in a reason to shop regularly at the two stores beyond opening day. That reason was kosher food.
Esther Lubel, a teacher at Torah Day School, enjoyed the spaciousness of Fresh Market’s 23,000-square-foot store. On shelves and in cases she found some kosher products, such as flat pizza dough, but she was disappointed at the lack of a section marked “Kosher.”
Romano also was disappointed. “If they get more kosher products,” she said, “it will be good for them and the community.”
Promoting that message, Roberta Scher, the executive editor of Koshereye.com and food columnist for the Jewish Georgian, arrived earlier than Lubel and Romano to speak to managers and leave her card. Scher said one of her goals in the neighborhood and around the country “is to educate brands and supermarkets how beneficial it is to have kosher products.”
With a little under 12,000 square feet, Earth Fare found room for a small display of kosher products. In the back corner of the store, a narrow shelf was filled mostly with organic grape juice, matzah and matzah ball mix.
Mr. Pat, the manager at Earth Fare, said that Scher had told him the store’s display of traditional kosher foods “wasn’t the way to reach the Jewish community.”
He offered to order new kosher items if they meet Earth Fare’s strict quality standards, which include being free of added hormones, antibiotics, high-fructose corn syrup, and artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives.
Those standards should make it easier to supervise a kosher coffee bar or bulk products, said Rabbi Reuven Stein, the director of the Atlanta Kashruth Commission. Scher hopes that Earth Fare will order organic, kosher, humanely raised meat and poultry.
Not all kosher consumers care about organic, but they care about new places to eat and reliable hechshers (seals of kosher approval), such as the OU, Star K, Kof K and Atlanta’s Peach K.
Rabbi Stein, who oversees the Peach K, said most markets that are part of big corporate models “don’t know how to adapt one of their stores to being different.” He noted that both Fresh Market and Earth Fare originated in cities in North Carolina with small Jewish populations and haven’t been exposed to what kosher means. “They have to get out of the mode of more gefilte fish and matzah meal.”
The only way for stores to change, Rabbi Stein said, isn’t to hear from him. The store managers are polite, but they think he wants the business, little of which actually comes from supermarkets.
Only customers asking for a kosher gelato or coffee bar, bakery, or bulk products can make a difference, he said. The request can be made in person, by phone, by email or by dropping a note into a suggestion box. “When they hear that customers want something,” Rabbi Stein said, “it’s a different story.”
That story can have a happy ending or exciting beginning for kosher consumers from Toco Hills shopping at Fresh Market and Earth Fare.