Business: Supermarket scramble

Beersheba residents now have a bevy of food-buying options, including three new grocery chain stores as well as revamped older shops.

Eden Teva supermarket  521 (photo credit: YOCHEVED MIRIAM RUSSO)
Eden Teva supermarket 521
It is not just the summer sun that is heating things up in Beersheba.
Competition among grocery chains hit fever pitch this summer too – and more is on the way.
Until about a year ago, the biggest decision grocery shoppers faced was which items to choose from the shelves. For years, Beersheba has been dominated by three major chains: Mega, Shufersal and Mahsanei Hashuk – and shoppers only chose which branches they wanted to patronize. Even if you added the Municipal Shuk to the o p t i o n s , there wasn’t much difference among them.
All that has now changed.
Three big grocery chains opened branches in Beersheba, and seemingly overnight , the range of food-buying options exploded: a brand-new Rami Levy store welcomes customers, a pristine Eden Teva Market attracts lovers of organic foods, and a monumental new Osher Ad promises low prices for everyone. Not to be outdone, the three old standbys upped the ante: Mega redesigned their flagship Mega Bool store, expanding it and making it more attractive, and both Shufersal and Mahsanei Hashuk opened shiny new neighborhood stores, all vying for the same shoppers’ shekels.
Longtime resident Naomi Graetz welcomes all the new options.
“It is very healthy that we have so many more choices now – and did you notice? They’re all full of people!” Graetz smiles. “I’ve been in Israel since 1962 and in Beersheba since 1974. I remember how exciting it was when Beersheba’s first supermarket opened in the Merkaz Hanegev, the city’s first mall, right across from Soroka Medical Center. Then another bigger store opened on Rambam Street, near the shuk; there’s a bridal shop there now. But back in the 1970s, those were the only choices you had, apart from the little neighborhood shops. But because we had three little kids, we sought out other options. We went directly to Tnuva and Strauss and bought everything we could wholesale, in bulk – like 12 chickens at a time to put in our freezer. You don’t need to do that anymore.”
Today Graetz says she shops “all over the place,” including at “Charlie.” A grocery store named “Charlie”? Indeed. The name reflects a Beersheba linguistic habit, one in which everything is identified as what it used to be rather than what it might be at the moment.
“‘Charlie’ is really a Shufersal Deal,” Graetz laughs. “A guy named Charlie used to own it, so lots of us still call it that. ‘Charlie’ is out past Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, together with a cluster of other stores. I still go there sometimes, but I go other places too.
“Have I switched? Yes, to some degree.
I love going to Rami Levy when it is not too busy – their fresh fruit and vegetables are wonderful, and at shuk prices!” she says. “We like Eden Teva, too. When we go there, we always enjoy their lunch counter too. It is not like shopping in Israel at all. We stock up on dairy at Eden Teva – they have the lowest dairy prices.”
While spending a year in New York, Graetz picked up another habit.
“We didn’t have a car in the States, so we ordered groceries online, to be delivered.
When we came back to Israel it was August and so hot, I hated to go out. I started ordering online from Shufersal.
I’ve been very satisfied with that, although now I tend to do it just before the holidays, when the stores are so crowded.”
What’s the most important consideration? “Time, mostly,” Graetz says. “Price is less important, although we find that smaller local stores are much more expensive. We really only go to them if it is a spur-of-the moment thing, or just for a few items.”
VEGETARIANS BETH and David Arnstein list a good cheese counter as among their top priorities.
“We have switched a little bit,” Beth Arnstein says. “We don’t have a car, so convenience matters, too. We do a lot of everyday shopping at the neighborhood shops, but once a month we do a big shopping at Eden Teva. I stay away from some of the older big stores because I’ve found that some of their dairy products spoil faster than others, and dairy is important to us.
One day I was in one of the old standbys, and I was just appalled,” she says. “It was so awful, so dirty and crowded. To make matters worse, all the produce workers were standing in the aisle, talking to each other. I couldn’t even pass by them. At Eden Teva, you’d never see anything like that. They’re very friendly and helpful, and the whole place is exquisitely clean. That’s another priority.”
For some people, the changes their supermarkets made have not marked any improvement.
“Since the new Mahsanei Hashuk opened in our neighborhood, I shop mostly there,” says Frieda Gilmour. “I used to shop in Mega Bool where the prices were very good. But then they doubled their size, and now it is impossible.
It is way too big. It seems like I have to walk miles to get what I want, and I just haven’t the patience. I don’t want to have to work my way through toilet seats and household goods just to get the food items I need.”
Gilmour also balances a market’s low prices against the high cost of gasoline to get there, not to mention the time required to stand in line. “One market was advertising 20 percent off everything, and I poked my nose in,” she recalls. “I could see I was going to have to stand in line forever, so I just left. Now when I see some supermarket advertising a huge sale of some kind, I stay away.
“I went to Rami Levy right before Passover... but that wasn’t the time to go. I haven’t been to Osher Ad yet, but I wasn’t all that impressed with Eden Teva. I couldn’t see any rhyme or reason in how it was stocked – there was some cereal here, more over there, still more in another place. Even so, their cheese counter was amazing and I did find mango chutney there that I’ve never seen anywhere else” she says.
Joan Kahn is definitely one of those who have switched.
“I used to go to all the regular stores – Mega and Shufersal mostly – and I still do shop around, but now I mostly go to Rami Levy. When I read that Rami Levy promised to deliver free groceries to the Fogel children who survived that terrible terror attack [in Itamar in 2011], I was really impressed... my sense is that he is a good person, someone I’m happy to give my money to. The great prices are another reason I shop there, of course. I have gone to Osher Ad too, but it’s a little farther out so I probably won’t get there very often,” she says.
Many Rami Levy shoppers mention personal considerations that play a part in their decision to shop there. Several mentioned how the stores are staffed, with both Arabs and Jews working together.
“That means a lot to me, too,” Kahn says. “It defeats that whole argument about Israel being so exclusionary. And customer service seems to be a priority.
All the checkout lines are open so you rarely have to wait. Some of the other stores make you wait forever – and going at a non-busy time doesn’t help, because then they’ll close all but a few lines. I was at Rami Levy right before one of the big holidays, when there were lots of people waiting in line, and they came around and handed out cookies and cold water.
I thought that was really nice. I’d never seen anything like that in Israel before.”
So what is the downside to Rami Levy? “They don’t have fresh fish, that’s one thing. And when all the other stores in that new mall open, parking is going to be very difficult.”
Kahn’s reference is to the new, not-yetfully- open “Mall 7” in the Neveh Noy neighborhood. Rami Levy was one of the first stores to open there, and with some 34 more shops and stores opening their doors soon, the competition for parking is sure to increase.
“I have the flexibility to go at odd times – like Wednesday at noon,” Kahn says, “but not everyone can do that. It is probably going to be tough soon, but I still like Rami Levy, and not just for the low prices, either.”
The lack of fresh fish also counts as a downside for Isabel Haas when she shops at Eden Teva.
“I used to shop at Shufersal Deal, but when Eden Teva opened, I switched there because of all the organic fruits and vegetables they offer... It is not just the organic food, either,” she says. “It’s that it is so much nicer – wide aisles, the staff is so pleasant, no one yells at you. It seems to me that the other customers are friendlier, too, although that seems funny. And you don’t have to wait in line. It’s just a nice place to go.”
And Eden Teva’s prices? “I hear people say they’re more expensive, and maybe they are for normal products. But for organic foods, they’re actually cheaper. I used to order some organic things from online suppliers, but Eden Teva has much lower prices. So for what I want and what I buy, shopping at Eden Teva doesn’t cost me more at all,” she says. “I haven’t checked out the other new stores yet – there’s just no need. I’m happy at Eden Teva.”
THE ARRAY of organic products at Eden Teva Market attracted two other Beersheba residents, Edna Oxman and Barbara Carter.
“About two years ago I went totally organic,” Oxman recalls. “Back then I was still shopping at the little neighborhood Mega store. It’s close and easy to get to, but their selection of organic items wasn’t huge, so I started ordering from a small market in Omer where the owner would deliver to Beersheba twice a week. Then Eden Teva opened and now that store has closed, but I love Eden Teva – it is a lot like [US supermarket chain] Trader Joe’s. Have I been to Rami Levy or Osher Ad? No. I trust what I buy at Eden Teva. I don’t need to go anywhere else.”
Carter, another Beersheba resident without a car, says “since Eden Teva opened, I’ve been shopping there and at the newly redesigned Mega Bool.
Before, I shopped at the Mega Bool and the Shufersal that’s in that same area, which has a nice selection of cheeses I like. But since Eden Teva opened, that’s my favorite place. I like their line of products, the customer service, the big selection, all organic. I’m not one of those who runs from store to store, looking to see who has a special on peas or corn.”
At Mega Bool, she adds, “now the aisles are nice and wide and it is clean and friendly. I don’t speak much Hebrew, so it is important for me to find a place to shop where I know they will have what I need.”
Denis and Chana Weintraub haven’t switched at all.
“We’re still loyal to ‘Charlie,’” Denis laughs. “Charlie isn’t there anymore, but we still are. Actually, my wife Chana does most of the shopping – if I go, she says I buy all kinds of stuff we don’t need. Another factor is that Charlie is close to where Chana works, so it’s convenient.
I did investigate the other new stores. We walked into Rami Levy, but it was just before Passover and it was total chaos. We checked out Osher Ad, too. It is very nice, very big and has good parking, but the layout is different and it took a long time to find what I wanted.”
The couple has gone to Eden Teva for food supplements and vitamins, but not really groceries.
“All in all, we stick with Charlie. It’s not terribly big, we’re familiar with it, they have what we want. And we’re at the stage of life where if it costs us five shekels a week more for groceries, it’s not going to change our lifestyle.”
Israel Margolin, his wife and four children live in Sussiya, and Osher Ad has become their favorite shopping place.
“Sussiya is about 35 to 40 minutes outside Beersheba, and I used to shop at Mega Bool. But once Osher Ad opened, that is it for me. I’m self-employed and frequently go to Beersheba for one thing or another, so I just take a little different route and drive right up to it. Osher Ad has the lowest prices I’ve seen in Israel.
They have a very nice variety in the meat department, nice deli meats and a great line of dairy products. They have indoor parking, which is nice, and a variety of hechsherim [kashrut certifications]. I’ve heard people say Osher Ad is only for haredi families, but that’s not true. They have lots of different levels of hechsherim, something for everyone.”
Margolin says while Osher Ad doesn’t carry every brand he wants, “I love being able to buy in bulk – Osher Ad is like Costco. You can buy cheese in bulk, large boxes of things. It saves a lot of money.”
GARY MAZAL takes a proactive stance when checking out new supermarkets.
“I always go talk to the manager,” Mazal says. “I look around, see what’s there, and then ask the manager about bringing in the products I want that they don’t seem to have. My daughter needs gluten-free products and I’m mildly diabetic, so I want low-sugar items, so I always let the store managers know there are customers who want those things. And there are American products I want, too, like Manischewitz gefilte fish. I always ask and almost always get a positive response.
“I used to shop at Mega and at Charlie, but now I mostly go to the three new stores,” says Mazal. “I’m looking for quality, and all three of those new places have it. The first week Osher Ad opened I talked to the manager, asked about some specific items. He was great. All I had to do was tell them, he said, and they’d do their best.
“One day I was looking at the amazing stacks of fresh fruit they had, and asked the manager where it all came from.
‘From the Arava,’ he said. So being here in Beersheba is an advantage – we’re closer to the source.”
Mazal also appreciates Eden Teva Market’s size and layout plus the organic products, fresh whole-wheat bread and juices.
“Eden Teva is small, not crowded and easy to navigate. You can get in and out easily, plus they carry a lot of things you won’t see anywhere else in Beersheba; I treat it as more of a specialty shop. I don’t like going to some of the bigger stores,” he says. “I don’t want to have to deal with electronics, clothing and housewares when I just want groceries.
Rami Levy and Eden Teva are smart in that regard, I think. All that other stuff takes up so much space.”
Soon Beershebites will have even more grocery shopping options.
“The new ‘green’ mall they’re building, scheduled to open later this year, will be the biggest mall in the entire country,” Mazal notes. “There is going to be a new big supermarket in there. We don’t know which one yet, but pretty soon there will be another new grocery store to check out.”
“I think all these new stores are just wonderful,” says Graetz. “Having all these options literally adds a little spice to our lives.”