For Torah-observant Jews, the standard of kashrus has always been the ultimate–or more accurately, the only–decisive factor in food shopping. When our grandparents managed their households, dedication to kashrus meant forgoing a wide variety of tasty, healthful products on the market, either because they lacked certification altogether or because their kashrus standard did not pass muster.
As time went by, the number of products on supermarket shelves sporting reliable kashrus certification continually increased. Keeping kosher was no longer much of a challenge for the palate, and the kosher consumer’s mesirus nefesh was restricted to his pocket. On the whole, buying strictly kosher products entailed passing up money-saving bargains and paying a premium for kashrus value–a price paid willingly, but not without difficulty.
But now, even that challenge is soon to be greatly alleviated, as the baked-goods department of one of the major wholesale club chains “goes kosher.”
Doughnuts: No longer “do nots.” Rachel K. is a longtime BJ’s Wholesale Club member, a loyal customer who has long enjoyed the savings she receives in return for her BJ’s membership. Whether it’s for purchasing new air conditioners to beat the New York City heat or buying new school supplies each September, BJ’s has become a routine stop for Rachel and her growing family.
Yet with all of the convenience that BJ’s has to offer, kosher food has not been near the top of Rachel’s BJ’s shopping list. As a kosher consumer, Rachel would pass through the well-stocked bakery department without looking twice, knowing that the food was not certified as kosher and therefore would not be coming home with her at the end of her shopping excursion. That is, until now.
Wishing to provide a complete money-saving shopping experience for all of their customers, including the kashrus-observant ones, BJ’s Wholesale club recently announced that many of their bakery departments will be going kosher. Working together with the Kof-K, one of the world’s leading kashrus organizations, BJ’s has already started kashering stores in New York and Massachusetts, with additional plans to kosher stores in New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Florida, and Ohio. By the end of 2013, 24 BJ’s Wholesale Clubs will have kosher bakery departments, to be joined by an additional 17 in 2014.
Everything from intricate birthday cakes to cookies, muffins, pastries, and croissants–much loved by BJ’s general shopping public–will now be available to the kosher consumer at wholesale club prices, with dairy items being carefully labeled in blue. Aside from the Kof-K certifying rabbis who will be making regular visits to the bakery to ensure that everything is up to the Kof-K’s kashrus standards, customers will be able to directly contact Rabbi Moishe Lebovits, a Kof-K kashrus administrator who heads the BJ’s kosher bakery program, with any questions they may have.
Paving the way to kosher. “Before a store ‘goes kosher,’ we go through a detailed kosherization process,” explains Rabbi Lebovits. “All of the employees attend a seminar where we explain what kosher is, how it relates to BJ’s bakery, and its significance to the consumer. We want them to understand how important this is.
“But if anyone ever does have a question, they will be able to contact me directly. We want to make the experience as easy and enjoyable for the consumer as possible, and therefore instead of having to call our office and leave a message, each store will have my cell number and eâ€‘mail available to any consumer with a kashrus question.”
In addition to the BJ’s fresh-baked items, the bakery department will also carry a wider array of kosher prepackaged items, many of which will be pareve and pas Yisrael. BJ’s, which opened its 200th store in North Carolina in June, will also be stocking more general kosher food items, such as meats and cheeses, in their frozen and refrigerator aisles. All of this spells welcome news for kosher consumers everywhere.
“We’ve been getting very positive feedback, and people are really excited about this,” concludes Rabbi Lebovits. “People are shopping in BJ’s anyway, but now a whole new section of it has opened to the kosher consumer. The world is going kosher, and we’re delighted that BJ’s is a part of that.” v