So, after all this time, where are the chickens?
When Premier Kosher won the bid to produce Ontario-raised kosher chickens in March 2016, company president Paul Tzellos announced that he expected to have production up and running in January of the following year. Now, as the month winds down, kosher consumers might well ask, “Nu?”
Tzellos declined to be interviewed for this story, saying in an email, “I am not able to provide a plant start up date for you at this time. We are working hard to get the plant into production.”
He suggested an update might be forthcoming in March.
That was the same time frame suggested by Richard Rabkin, managing director of the Kashruth Council of Canada, which is known by its COR hechsher.
COR “has been working diligently with Premier Kosher on the aspects of their kosher program as they work to get their plant up and running,” Rabkin said in an email. “Premier Kosher has been working very hard, but it’s a big undertaking. They have advised us that they are aiming to commence operation in the coming months.”
‘People don’t want to spend money on fatty chickens’
Chai Poultry flies the coop; Marvid fills void
For many years, Ontario had been served by locally produced kosher chicken from Chai Poultry, but in 2013, the company sold its supply quota to a halal producer. That left kosher consumers without a local source of kosher poultry.
Marvid, a Montreal-based company, stepped into the breach. Consumers, however, were often unhappy with Marvid’s product. Many voiced their concerns on the Facebook page operated by culinary maven Norene Gilletz, who has authored several cookbooks on kosher cuisine and is a contributor to The CJN.
“People found the chickens fatty and they needed cleaning,” she said in an interview. “People don’t want to spend money on fatty chickens.”
Quality has improved in recent months, as it appears Marvid has taken consumers’ complaints to heart, she added.
‘I hate monopolies’
Andy Strub is looking forward to the arrival of a second source of kosher chickens. “I hate monopolies,” said Strub, who works in the food industry and is part of the family that once operated the eponymously named pickle company.
“From that perspective, I hate the fact that one company can control the marketplace.” That affects quality and supply, he said.
Strub suggested that as a new entrant to the market, Premier can be expected to hit the ground running, competing on price, quality and availability in a bid to capture a healthy chunk of the market.
Moshe Benyair is chef and culinary director of Savours Gourmet – Hartman’s Signature. He’s familiar with Marvid chicken and he employs butchers to cut up, skin, clean and de-bone the whole birds he receives from the supplier.
They’re “much cleaner and nicer” when Savour’s butchers get through with them, he said.
Benyair said he was happy when he heard consumers and retailers like himself would have another kosher chicken alternative. Marvid for a time “found challenges in supply,” but “they’ve improved,” he said.
Still, a more secure supply would be welcome, so that he’ll know when he places an order it will arrive quickly, he added.
‘With or without competition’
When Premier chickens finally arrive, Benyair expects to place an order and subject them to the same Savours treatment as the Marvid products. Ultimately, they will be repackaged for the customers and it will be up to them to determine whether they prefer one brand or the other, he said.
As for Marvid, spokesperson Maurice Gabay said the company entered the Ontario market on short notice when Chai stopped producing and did its best to meet demand.
Today, he said, “prices and specials are as good as before, even better sometimes. We always try to improve our quality and service, and will never stop, with or without competition.”
He said Toronto consumers are “happy with Marvid products… because the volume doesn’t stop increasing.
“As we were able to face the situation three years ago with the help of God, we’ll face any situation with more experience,” he said