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The Grocery Guy

Barbara Bensoussan

With 1,300 supermarkets under his purview, Yakov Yarmove is one of America’s most influential executives in the kosher segment of the retail food business. As the kosher buyer for the SUPERVALU chain, his decisions heavily impact the kosher market, and make sure kosher products are available in the far-flung corners of the US — a change from the days when he was a kid and for years drank only powdered milk.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Looking at the outside of the Jewel-Osco supermarket in Evanston, Illinois, you’d never guess that inside lies another “jewel”: a swanky, 6,000-square-foot kosher store-within-a-store that’s about as close to Pomegranate as you’re likely to find outside greater New York. On display in the bakery section are 47 varieties of pas Yisrael bread; a huge kosher deli offers a mouthwatering assortment of cold cuts. There’s a “Taste of Israel” section proffering authentic Israeli products. The meat department is so expansive it garneredChicago’s “Best Kosher Butcher” award five years in a row, and there’s even a glatt kosher Chinese takeout restaurant with the predictable name Ten Li Chow.

This is definitely a far cry from the out-of-town supermarkets I grew up with, where “kosher aisle” meant about two feet of shelving stocked with little more than matzoh, canned soup, and jarred gefilte fish. But the man behind this gleaming retail mini-empire is Yakov Yarmove, a jovial, six-foot businessman who once thought he’d make a career being a military chaplain. But Hashem had other plans, and today Yarmove’s business card reads “Corporate Business Manager of Ethnic Marketing and Specialty Foods” for Supervalu Inc., the Minneapolis-based parent company of Jewel-Osco, Albertsons, Acme, Shoppers, and seven other grocery chains across theUS. As the buyer of all the kosher products for some 1,300 stores in 39 states across the country, his buying decisions have made a major impact on the national kosher market.

Yarmove’s job keeps him on the road close to 40 weeks a year, and Mishpacha was able to catch up with him recently inNew York (he lives with his wife Miriam and six children inChicago).

“Before every Yom Tov season I make a point to visit our top kosher stores with our regional merchandising teams,” he says. “We also check up on the competition. This job requires thinking like a battlefield general — you have to manage from the ground, not from the air.”

Yarmove is dressed the part of a savvy businessman: neat beard, stylish eyeglasses, checked shirt, leather jacket. Once a Chabad shaliach, Yarmove brings all the zeal and outreach skills of that experience to his current career, even down to the jokes (“Lots of people out there are GI Jews,” he announces. “Gastrointestinal ones.…”). He has a voice that would’ve served him well in radio announcing — a resonant, voluminous baritone inflected with a perfect middle American accent, a voice that loves to talk about Yiddishkeit and his campaign to bring kosher to the far corners of the American midbar.


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