| Day in the Life |

Day in the Life: Chaim White

Chaim White is the owner of KC Kosher Co-op. He works with his wife, Katie, and they’re based in Kansas City, Kansas.

What we do

KC Kosher Co-op delivers kosher food and products in bulk to members in participating cities around the country. We recently celebrated our tenth anniversary.

How it works

Starting a co-op in your city is easy — a community member contacts us and demonstrates they have a core group to support it. We set that city up on the website, where that location’s members order by the case and pay online. It’s free to join, and essentially, we turn a group of people in a city into a virtual store so they get deeply discounted prices. Our prices tend to be 30 percent cheaper than a store, and we guarantee they’re a minimum of 10 percent cheaper than what can be gotten locally. There are no shipping charges and except for members in Kansas, no tax.

How we got started

Irv’s, the local kosher store in Kansas City, closed in 2007, and there was no other real option for kosher food here. My parents and sisters live in Dallas and they had a kosher co-op there, so we ordered to coordinate with a visit there. On our way back, with our kids’ heads sticking up between all the cases we got, Katie and I looked at each other and wondered if we could reproduce this in Kansas City. We contacted the distributor, who agreed to sell to us, and put the products online so our friends could order too. Our first delivery was in September, in time for the chagim. I remember it was raining so we couldn’t unload into the shul parking lot. My wife Katie was in her third trimester and handing cases out of the back of a refrigerated truck. The funny thing about being online is that anyone can see the prices, and people from other cities started asking if we could service them, too. After a few years, we were delivering to a handful of cities, which has since grown to more than 20 across the country.

The disclaimer

While we are online, we do value local access to kosher food. If a city has only one local source of kosher food, we won’t go there — we don’t want to introduce competition that could put them out of business. But we believe that healthy competition benefits both the consumers and companies. In almost every city we service, local kosher options have expanded since the co-op started. For example, in Kansas City, where there was no option when we started, two local grocers have since opened new kosher sections.

Oddest request from a customer

Oh, there are so many! Top of the list is probably a customer who asked us to accept a return for a matzah meal container they had ordered four years prior — and had opened and partially used. We don’t deliver overseas, but we will deliver directly to a dock location. I’ll never forget the one customer who said he'd have to work with me on the bribes required to get the food into Venezuela. We passed on that one.

Changes along the way

We used to process all invoices by hand in Excel, and we didn’t take online payments. Fortunately, that’s all automated now. For the first five years, we ordered and shipped everything through a distributor. Now we order direct from manufacturers, we have direct relationships with many major suppliers, we deliver to several cities out of our own truck, and we have a warehouse in Kansas City. It’s actually in one of the many underground storage facilities developed in abandoned limestone mines.

Not overstepping our boundaries

If a Jewish community is large enough to unquestionably support diverse competition, we don’t contact those local rabbis. But for cities that are borderline, we’re in touch with local rabbis before entering. I don’t want to call out specific cities because the conversations — or “permission” — can be sensitive, but we’ve met with many local vaad hakashrut organizations and shul leaders. One local vaad was upset about the start of a co-op in their city so we canceled our plan to go there, but the members’ backlash was very strong because they felt it limited their ability to keep kosher at affordable prices. The vaad came back and asked us to start the co-op, and today there’s a healthy co-op along with local options that are stronger than ever.

Coming soon

Between now and Pesach we are working to make three changes: One, we’re launching a new website. Two, we’re launching a business model that can make co-ops work in smaller cities — while there’s no individual order limit, in the past we’ve had an $8,000 minimum order by the community in order for us to ship. And three, we hope to pilot, in selected cities, accepting payments from those receiving SNAP benefits.

Oops… bloopers

We’ve had plenty, but the biggest has to be about eight years ago, when we updated the site to take checks as a payment option. But there was a bug in the system, and each person got charged for the next person’s order. It was horrible — some people ordered $50 and were charged for an order totaling $1,000! It was so embarrassing. We contacted everyone to assure them we’d pay any associated fees and resolve it immediately. People were incredibly forgiving, but we’ll never forget the reminder of the responsibilities of dealing with other peoples’ money.

Memorable feedback

The most meaningful is when someone tells us they keep kosher because they have an affordable option, or when someone says they can afford chicken at their Shabbat table, or when we hear from kollel families that they can better afford guests. We are, of course, a business, but we do consider it a mission to provide affordable kosher food! This is one of the reasons we partner with ten kosher food pantries and Tomchei Shabbos programs where we’ve maintained a one-to-one match of donations from our members, and we grant $1,000 to anyone in our cities willing to start a kosher-food-pantry-type organization if they don’t have one yet.

Most popular items we sell

In this order: gefilte fish, chicken wings, ground beef, chicken in eighths, and for the chagim, briskets

Most popular product

Our top-selling product is Fresh & Frozen gefilte fish

Most popular brand

David Elliot, people really appreciate their consistent quality chicken and high fulfillment

By the numbers

6 Primary people on staff: 2 owners, 2 customer service, 1 strategy and operations manager, 1 website developer. To think the co-op used to be our second job!
23 Cities we service: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, El Paso, Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Memphis, Nashville, Omaha, Kansas City, Phoenix, Raleigh, Savannah, Seattle, Silicon Valley, St. Louis, Tucson, and Wichita
5,000+ Products for sale. It can be overwhelming to figure out what to buy, so we introduced product rating, organizing it so members can see the top-ten products in any category

Picture this

When we first launched photos on the website, we let customers upload their own photos — we don’t anymore, but we used to. Someone once uploaded a picture from their son’s bar mitzvah to the page for a certain gefilte fish, and then another customer e-mailed that something smelled fishy about that photo.

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