The cottage cheese uprising

We can only hope that the cottage cheese insurrection will be revolutionary indeed.

cottage cheese 311 R (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
cottage cheese 311 R
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
As individuals, Israeli consumers love to grumble, but as a collective we are rarely proactive. This, habitual gripes notwithstanding, attests to a passive mindset and manifestly undercuts our bargaining power. Consequently consumers are taken for granted and exploited by greedy manufacturers and retailers.
But change may be around the corner, heralded by that humble Israeli breakfast component – cottage cheese – and galvanized, in our dairy version of the Arab Spring, by social media. The sharp spike in the price of this local staple has inspired an emergent tide of consumers to use their shopping basket to make a point. Companies may from now on have to watch their step or feel the backlash.
The revolt began as a Facebook initiative to boycott cottage cheese for two weeks starting on July 1. But the effects are already being felt. Many thousands – the numbers grow dramatically by the hour – have signed an online petition and vowed not to buy this commonplace favorite. Moreover, the Facebook group now promises to follow the “Cottage Cheese rebellion” with similar consumer mutinies, by homing in on a different outrageously overpriced product each month.
Already announced price hikes affect almost everything on our supermarket shopping lists – from detergents and shampoos to coffee, snacks and even humous. The pretexts are mounting raw material expenses on international commodity markets. But, as presented by the producers, all fluctuations occur in a single direction – upward. Ordinary consumers clearly lack the tools to scrutinize such claims. Coffee costs, for instance, fell consistently from 2009; prices in Israel kept on rising nevertheless.
Moreover, even higher commodity outlays for wheat, sugar and cattle feed don’t necessarily mandate the sort of increases that are being imposed on Israeli consumers. We already pay considerably more for identical fare than do many of our counterparts elsewhere in the developed world. Ironically, even Israeli products often sell for less abroad than they do at home.
Perhaps most dismaying is the fact that some Israeli discount chains – Rami Levi, Hazi Hinam and others – are somehow managing to sell the same cottage cheese containers at the old, lower prices. Presumably these chains still make a profit. The inescapable inference is that other leading chains overcharge. If budget retailers can sell a tub of cottage cheese at NIS 4.90, something is awry when elsewhere we are charged nearly NIS 8 for the same item.
The problem for consumers, though, is that these budget outlets aren’t as numerous or as omnipresent as the established chains.
Occasionally nationwide chains offer enticing sales. Yet because these aren’t permanent reductions, they mollify consumers temporarily and muffle the overall discontent.
Price hikes seem to be imposed in near-unison among the dominant chains, underscoring the impression of cartel- like price-fixing. This defeats government expectations that free competition will keep prices reasonable – the guiding assumption when price controls were lifted from most dairy products and other basic provisions five years ago.
THE MANUFACTURERS remain unrepentant. The Food Producers Section within the Industrialists Association has reacted to the popular protest arrogantly, saying it isn’t bothered by the boycott actions because consumers cannot avoid eating and will have no choice but to shop for food. The subtext is that producers may charge what they like because they have captive customers.
The producers, furthermore, argue that car prices here are higher than overseas as well. But this comparison is cynical, precisely because foodstuffs are essential for everyone, whereas new vehicles are dispensable luxuries. Groceries were 5 percent more expensive this past Shavuot than a year ago. Wages had not increased commensurately.
This means that our buying power is gradually eroded.
The movers and shakers in the world of commerce shouldn’t lose sight of their consumers’ ability to pay.
That said, Israeli consumers – from the state’s earliest days of rationing and extreme austerity – never failed to signal that they’d pay through the nose in flagrant disregard of good sense. It isn’t for nothing that our economy relies on individual’s bank overdrafts.
We can only hope that the cottage cheese insurrection will be revolutionary indeed, and will mark the end of our resigned submission to whatever is exorbitantly inflicted upon us by the arbitrary whims of boardroom opportunists.