'Marketplace' Report: Kosher Margarine



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A shortage of Passover spread is leaving Jewish cooks without a suitable alternative. The situation was caused in part by farmers' widespread switch to corn.

A shortage of special kosher Passover margarine is causing some stores to ration their stock, leaving Jewish cooks without a suitable alternative. Amy Scott talks with Alex Chadwick about the cause and effect of the culinary crisis.

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From NPR News, it's Day to Day. The Jewish Holiday Passover begins tomorrow, and some cooks are going to have to adjust their favorite recipes. This is a business story because there's a shortage of some popular Kosher foods, and it's giving people conniption fits in kitchens across the country. Marketplace's Amy Scott is with us. Amy, what is missing?

AMY SCOTT: Well, the big thing, Alex, is Kosher for Passover margarine in stick form. Kosher rules forbid the mixing of meat and dairy products at meals. So, observant Jews bake with margarine instead of butter, and there will be a lot of baking going on this weekend. I called up Avi Glatt, a Kosher supermarket in Brooklyn. Marjorie Avanon says, customers keep asking for Mother's brand stick margarine, and she has to turn them away.

Ms. MARJORIE AVANON (Kosher Supermarket Owner): They only made the tubs which is 16 ounces. And people are complaining because they use that especially for baking and they can measure it, you know, the sticks, you can measure.

SCOTT: Apparently, the tub kind of margarine is also - has more water in it. So, some cooks complain that brownies and cookies don't turn out as well.

CHADWICK: Well, this is the time of year, and businesses have to get ready, they know there's going to be this big demand here. So, what happened? What's going on with the shortage?

SCOTT: Well, Mother's is distributed by the Manishevitz line of Kosher foods and according to the Wall Street Journal, the private company that makes Mother's decided to get out of the Kosher margarine business. You know, when you sell a product just once a year, it's expensive and time-consuming to clean all the equipment and meet Kosher requirements. Also, the cotton seed oil used to make margarine has gone up in price as more farmers have switched to planting corn because of the ethanol boom we have been hearing about. But, margarine isn't the only the Passover food in short supply this year. I spoke with Claire Dratt(ph) at Park East Kosher here in Manhattan. She says, mini Matzo crackers, called Tam-Tams, also made by Manischevitz, are missing this year.

Ms. CLAIRE DRATT (Park East Kosher): People like to serve, you know, chopped liver or whatever on the cracker with a drink or something. And they've asked the same thing, you know, if we have the crackers, and we don't.

SCOTT: Manischevitz apparently had production problems in this case. And Dratt says, people are making are do with tea crackers or breaking up larger pieces of Matzo.

CHADWICK: OK. OK for Manischevitz, they're the manufacturer - what about the grocers, who are expecting to sell this products at this time of year?

SCOTT: I asked Dratt if this was hurting business at all, and she said, no. People, you know, buy other products, but a lot of people completely clean out their refrigerators and restock for Passover. So, Kosher supermarkets get huge orders this time of year. And I talked to one, one person you'll have the fund, but the grocery said, this too will pass over.

CHADWICK: Amy, thank you for that. Amy Scott of Public Radio's daily business show, Marketplace. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.