Yitty Deutsch of Monsey bags onions at Evergreen Kosher market in Monsey. Photo by Tania Savayan/lohud
Ethnic supermarkets are gaining loyal customers, shoppers in search of quality food, and a wider variety
Operators of the Evergreen Kosher supermarket could sense an opportunity in Monsey a few years ago as they prepared to open in a space previously occupied by Pathmark.
The fact that the market would sell kosher food wasn’t particularly unique. There were other kosher markets nearby. But the stores seemed outdated and weren’t keeping up with the demands of the modern kosher shopper, said A.J. Jordan, Evergeen’s chief marketing officer.
“With the Jewish community growing, I don’t know if it was effectively servicing the community,” he said.
So Evergreen, which has a motto of “Shop Happy,” set out to be different. It not only offered a wide variety of products and amenities, such as a bake shop, personalized butcher and an extra-large section of prepared and ready-to-cook foods, it did so inside a sleek, 30,000-square-foot, modern store.
Within a few months, all the competitors underwent their own renovations, said Ephraim Yurowitz, 50, of Monsey, a frequent Evergreen shopper.
“All of the other stores in Monsey had to change,” he said. “Everybody realized they had to compete.”
While traditional supermarkets cater to the average shopper, kosher and ethnic supermarkets focus on offering specialty products that appeal to their target customer and can’t be found in mainstream stores.
By many measures, it’s a growth area for supermarket operators. Kosher food sales increased by 64 percent in the five years since 2003, according to market intelligence firm Mintel. Growing Hispanic and Asian populations have also fueled increases to the ethnic supermarket industry, with revenue expected to grow by 2.5 percent a year to nearly $32 billion in 2015, according to market research firm IBISWorld.
As part of their desire to expand, ethnic supermarket operators were among the most eager buyers of former A&P stores when the company held bankruptcy auctions this year.
Bogopa, operators of the Food Bazaar supermarket in Mount Vernon, picked up five former A&Ps in New York City and New Jersey. After 27 years of operation, Bogopa now operates 25 stores.
“We’ve always looked for opportunities where supermarkets are needed and they tend to be in areas that are underserved,” spokeswoman Suzanne Kuczun said.
Bogopa began as a single store operated by the late Francis An, a Korean who emigrated to Argentina as a youngster and later moved to New York. The company name translates to “yearning for you” in Korean, which embodies An’s commitment to serving the culinary needs of immigrants, the company’s website says.
While Bogopa began by primarily carrying Hispanic and Caribbean food, it has expanded to other ethnic products from other countries, including some from Asia.
“Nobody has done it as well as we have in terms of the variety,” Kuczun said.
Another ethnic supermarket that has gained many local fans is Hmart in Hartsdale, where there is often a steady stream of shoppers from varied backgrounds. The supermarket chain, started by Korean immigrants in Queens in 1982, has expanded to nearly 50 stores in 11 states.
At Hmart, frequent shopper and Japanese native Akiko Noda finds items she can’t get at a mainstream grocery store.
The store, which has a reputation for carrying a wide array of Asian products, has succeeded in drawing a variety of customers.
Frequent Hmart shopper and Japanese native Akiko Noda, 67, of Croton-on-Hudson, said she is often approached by shoppers unfamiliar with Asian products who ask her advice on how to cook a particular item.
“I am happy to do that,” Noda said. “The kids, they need exposure.”
She said she used to shop at a Japanese specialty store but has since switched to Hmart because the prices are better.
“When we come, we spend a lot,” she said.
An avid cook, Noda said she will find items she can’t get at a mainstream grocery store. During a recent shopping trip, she bought a tray marked “salmon bones,” which sold for $1.99 a pound and consisted of remnants of the fish after it is filleted.
Some of the most successful ethnic and kosher supermarkets are able to appeal to a wider population than a single demographic. A consumer survey from Mintel found that most shoppers buy kosher for quality. While a majority cite “general healthfulness,” a quarter cite their observance of religious rules.
In addition to making sure no pork products are stocked on its shelves, Evergreen features 14 aisles of kosher products, 60 different kinds of oil, 20 feet of aisle space devoted to grape juice and a plethora of Shabbat candles. Operators are also open to stocking new products, whether it be a new brand of gelfite fish or carrying fake bacon and imitation shrimp.
“The kosher market is booming,” Jordan said. “We’re becoming a more sophisticated and worldly shopper.”
Down the road from Evergreen is Food Fair, a warehouse-like supermarket that opened this year in the former Food Mart International store. Like its predecessor, Food Fair carries a wide array of international staples.
“We have a mix of everything,” said Osvaldo Carrera, manager and co-owner.
Carrera said he views his biggest competitors as Walmart and Costco, except that Food Fair wants to do a better job of catering to the tastes of the region’s diverse community. That may be one reason the store stocks 100-pound bags of beans and devotes 52 feet of aisle space to spices.
“They never really focused on that,” Carrera said of his competitors.
While specialty stores pride themselves at providing ethnic goods, retail giants such as Walmart have also made inroads by stocking ethnic staples.
Amy Ramirez, 40, of the Bronx was recently shopping at the Walmart in White Plains. A native of the Dominican Republic who works at a high-end department store in White Plains, she said she almost exclusively shops at Walmart for food, including Hispanic items.
“They have most of everything you’re looking for,” she said. “They have it, and it’s cheaper.”
Staff writer Peter Kramer contributed to this report.