Daniella Lerma, Fry’s multicultural specialist, travels to California four or five times a year. She likes going to the Ralphs grocery store in La Jolla, which houses one of the largest kosher sections of the Kroger’s line (the parent company of Fry and Ralph), she said.
“When you walk in, there’s a kosher bakery, a kosher deli, and kosher grab-and-go meals. Half of the store is dedicated to kosher products,” she said. “That was my inspiration. I thought, ‘How can we bring this back to Arizona?’”
Fry’s Food Stores’ response was to launch “Kosher Experience” sections in three stores in Phoenix and Scottsdale. The greatest Kosher experience is inside Fry’s Marketplace at 4707 E. Shea Blvd. in Phoenix. The area contains several divided aisles as well as frozen food crates marked with the word “kosher” in blue lettering. Lerma hopes to expand these sections to Chandler and Tucson stores in the near future.
“I grew up in a Hispanic family, so learning the kosher side of the business has been a lot of fun and I love it,” Lerma said.
He said there is an associate at the Shea Blvd. store, Tom Keppler, who is very dedicated and works with the distributor to keep the shelves in the kosher section stocked and sorted, as well as connect with customers.
“Without his passion, we wouldn’t have been able to continue shooting,” Lerma said. “He had a list of people who had ordered from him for Passover and Tom made sure he was here when they came to pick up their order.”
He said the week before Passover, people kept mentioning they came from all over the state to this shop. “It’s amazing,” Lerma said. “I’ve been trying to get feedback to see what we can do in their areas next year so they don’t have to travel to Scottsdale to get the products.”
Lerma is planning meetings with rabbis throughout the Great Phoenix area to help determine the best items to bring back for the community and what is missing. She also reached out to Robyn Schwager, community impact manager at Jewish Philanthropies of Southern Arizona in Tucson.
“I personally advocate more kosher food and more variety (in Tucson). I think a lot of people are too,” Schwager said. But he also noted that kosher food is more expensive and the cost can be prohibitive for some people.
Some local rabbis visited Fry’s on Shea Blvd. and pointed out to Lerma all the products located throughout the store with symbols on the packaging identifying the item as kosher. They explained that not all kosher products come from a strictly kosher manufacturer.
On the other hand, Schwager, who keeps kosher and is now vegan, appreciates it when a store carries items made only by kosher manufacturers.
“When I ate meat, a store would come in packets of sliced meats and I’d buy 10 or 12 packets at a time, to get me through,” she said.
Schwager also suggested that Fry take some of their kosher food dollars and shop for more diverse produce. “You don’t need 10 canned gefilte fish varieties from five different manufacturers,” she said. “Instead, take some of that money and buy kosher ketchup, that way you don’t have to score all that gefilte fish at the end of the season.”
Lerma keeps a list of items customers ask for every day — yogurt, whipped cream and milk are the “big ones,” she said — and she’s working on adding more storage to those items.
Schwager said social media is a great tool for announcing new kosher products in stock.
“My family loves frozen gefilte fish. I saw a store posted that they had a few and I went to buy what I needed,” she said. When she got home, she posted her purchase in her Facebook group. The next day, people came back and everything was disappeared.
“Word travels very fast down here. Everyone is on social media when it comes to kosher.”
To build a variety of products, Lerma is building relationships with many kosher food vendors such as Tuscanini and Heaven & Earth. One of the representatives she works with is Matt Kobzeff, VP of Western Sales at Kedem Food Products / Royal Wine Corporation. Kedem is one of the brands distributed by Kayco, the leading distributor of kosher foods in the United States.
Kobzeff introduced Lerma to the Herzog family, which owns and operates Royal Wine Corp., who began the journey of bringing kosher wine into the shop.
“They were very welcoming and positive about our entire experience,” Lerma said. “They let us try a couple of their wines they make and told us the story behind some of the artwork they put on the bottle.”
These wines are displayed on an end cap (a retail term for display area at the end of an aisle) marked “Kosher Wine & Spirits,” and she’s working to bring the kosher wine to other Fry’s locations.
Lerma is also partnering with other stores to donate some of their kosher products to the Arizona Kosher Pantry, the only kosher food pantry in the Southwest.
“We have five stores that have larger kosher sections, so we want to build something with them to start donating,” she said. “The shop managers agree; we just have to work on how we are going to separate the product”.
On July 20, Lerma will accompany a group of Fry’s associates to volunteer at the pantry.
“We will start with a group of 10 and go over there to volunteer. I’m excited,” she said.
After the shop renovation, you will be able to add a new assortment of products to the section.
“We are working with the store and we have standards where they comply with the section and only put our ‘true’ kosher product there,” she said. “They (our customers) trust them.” JN extension
For more information visit frysfood.com.