Chicken prices all kosher, says Brozin
Goldstein, Brozin and former McKinsey consultant Luizet Ruzow, who did the research, say their findings prove there is no way to reduce the current production cost of chicken. Instead, they point out, retail prices vary considerably from one outlet to another, and that kosher consumers could save by shopping around.
Regarding the delay in publishing the long-awaited report, Brozin said the blame should be laid squarely at his door. “I wanted to be clear of where we are going as a kosher community.”
He felt he needed to “gain a deeper understanding” into the kosher market in general, which took time. And, Brozin adds, he and Rabbi Goldstein had expanded the investigation far wider than the original brief.
The trio will be continuing their research into the realm of kosher products in general, and asking the question of how to get more people to eat more kosher, more often.
In early 2014, Rabbi Goldstein told the community he had asked Brozin, “to use his extensive network and knowledge of the industry, to find an innovative way to bring down the chicken price for the kosher consumer.”
Brozin says that “there is no simple quick-fix, or link, in the supply chain that will bring down the price of kosher chicken. We brought in an independent, ex-McKinsey consultant, Luizet Ruzow, who came with much experience and a shared passion for making kosher more accessible,” Brozin said.
Ruzow, who conducted the research at the abattoir, had worked on a restructuring project for the UOS several years ago.
The seven main factors that increase costs on a kosher versus treif production line in the report, are:
• In order for the bird to be koshered, only a “premium chicken” can be used. “Any wound or blemish can render an animal treif,” says Ruzow, as birds have to pass rigorous checks and inspections after shechting. So, the rate of rejecting birds is high, according to the report.
Rabbi Goldstein explains that any bird that doesn’t make the grade will be considered waste and sold to the treif market at a considerable discount.
Brozin said, however, that by using higher quality birds, the abattoir had managed to reduce waste from the 12 to 13 per cent of the recent past, to the eight per cent it stands at today.
• To ensure that the halachic method of slaughter is used “every bird is hand-slaughtered by a qualified expert”, says Ruzow. By contrast, a non-kosher production line has birds slaughtered mechanically, which is “a much faster and cheaper process”, she says. This adds to the cost.
• The “slow post-slaughter process” that requires “rigorous checking of every bird to make sure that it is healthy, takes time and needs to be performed by a qualified bodek”.They also need to be koshered by soaking in water and then salt, to remove the blood, she says. These steps add to the cost.
• Plucking of treif poultry is expedited by the birds being scalded to ease and speed up the process. But with kosher chickens, Ruzow says, scalding before kashering is not halachically acceptable. Therefore, more people are required “which (further) adds to the cost”, according to Ruzow.
• Additional personnel are needed in the shechita (slaughtering) process as well as a dayan (Beth Din judge) to conduct regular inspections at the abattoir, to ensure the highest standards of kashrut are maintained.
• The economies of scale are low, says Ruzow. “Chicken for sale in major retailers in South Africa are slaughtered and processed in abattoirs designed to move hundreds of thousands of birds a day.” The kosher market is relatively small, she says, resulting in increased costs per unit.
This last point is further exacerbated by the fact that the number of kosher birds slaughtered annually, has dropped by almost half, from almost 900 000 in 2001, to the current figure of under 500 000.
The report does not specify exact costs in the process. When asked what the shechting, kashering, checking costs are per bird, Ruzow said she couldn’t provide that because it was “private” and talks to people’s salaries and privately-owned businesses.
Another subject the report is silent on, is the profit made at the only kosher chicken abattoir in the country. They are “not profiteering – they are making a living,” proffers Brozin. Ruzow says one can’t expect a private company to divulge information about its business to the public.
Regarding the cost of the dayan’s fees, the Chief Rabbi says the UOS “allocates one day per week per dayan to cover all of their schechita services.” That means that 20 per cent of the salaries of the dayanim are allocated to schechita and thus borne by kosher consumers. This is done on a pro-rata basis “and there is no cross-subsidisation”, says Rabbi Goldstein.
The 2010 “Kingston Report” into the cost of kosher chicken, also commissioned by the UOS, showed that the UOS fees per chicken slaughtered were R3,06/bird (approximately R1,84/kg).
Between the 2010 and 2017 UOS reports, the cost of kosher chicken at Checkers increased by 60 per cent, from R35/kg to R58/kg.
The 2010 report had shown retail variances on gross profit of poultry ranging between 35 and 42 per cent. It detailed the UOS fees per kg and per bird, and it does not report on the eight recommendations the Kingston Report had listed as its summary of “possible remedies to bring the costs of (production) into line, as far as possible, with industry standards.
The new report offers four tables to illustrate that chicken prices are not lower in Cape Town, for example, and that they vary greatly from outlet to outlet across the country.
In terms of retail pricing of kosher versus kosher in Johannesburg retailers, the report found a variance in chicken schnitzel of 29 per cent between the highest and lowest priced – and in frozen chickens just 12 per cent.