How much would you pay for a bag of chocolate chips? For a case? How about six cases?
Would you believe over $650? That is what the Kisilinsky family of Squirrel Hill shelled out for six cases of Trader Joe’s parve chocolate chips.
But, say the Kisilinskys, these are no ordinary parve chocolate chips. There is a faction of brand-loyal consumers who swear by Trader Joe’s parve chocolate chips. And soon, they may not be able to find them.
On May 16, a kashrut advisory was released by the O.K. kosher certification board: “Please be advised that Trader Joe’s Chocolate Chips are no longer certified Parve. They are certified dairy (non-cholov Yisroel) when bearing the OK-D on the label.”
The chocolate chip stockpile frenzy began immediately thereafter, with local and national consumers sweeping the shelves of the remaining chocolate chips and ordering them by the case.
“I have five women in my house. That’s a lot of demand for chocolate; they eat this stuff like a snack,” said Macy Kisilinsky, referring to his wife and four daughters. “We’ll go through a couple of bags a week, and not just for baking. It’s in pancakes, waffles, banana bread, brownies.”
The store manager of the Trader Joe’s in East Liberty confirmed the rush, and a store representative at the Trader Joe’s in the South Hills said that customers were ordering them by the case, including one order for five cases.
Facebook pages immediately sprung up, including “Save Trader Joe’s Chocolate Chips” and “TJ’s please bring back the Parve Chocolate chips.” Kosher Pittsburgh’s Facebook page is also having a discussion about the issue, and there is an online petition at change.org. As of Monday morning there were 3,578 signatures.
No details appear on Trader Joe’s website, but a recent tweet issued by the OK said, “Packaging method changed for #Trader Joe choc chips. Now chance that actual dairy chips get in parve bag. #Kosher status changed to dairy.”
Nationally, a Trader Joe’s representative defended the product.
“The ingredients used in our semi-sweet chocolate chips have not changed,” Alison Mochizuki, a director of public relations for the company, said in statement emailed to the Chronicle. “There are no dairy ingredients in the item, and the chips are made on equipment dedicated to non-dairy chocolate.
“Our supplier of the chocolate chips has a bagging line that processes both semi-sweet chips (non-dairy) and milk chocolate chips,” Mochizuki continued. “They recently made some changes to the cleaning process used for the piece of equipment that puts the chips into bags. These changes (going from a “wet” to a “dry” cleaning regimen) triggered the need for an FDA-regulated, dairy-related allergen statement, and this in turn brought about a change in the kosher certification for our item — going from “Kosher Parve” to “Kosher Dairy.”
As a result, though, OK Kosher said supervising rabbis can no longer guarantee that errant milk chocolate won’t be in the semi-sweet bags.”
Rabbi Daniel Wasserman of Shaare Torah, a member of Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh, a local kosher certifying organization, said a similar issue occurred five years ago when Duncan Hines announced that its cake mixes would no longer be certified parve.
“The entire kosher cooking world went ballistic and literally made them change. I guess this is akin to that. Duncan Hines was the only retail available cake mix that was parve.”
And a decade ago, Stella d’Oro, after a similar outcry, was pressured into nixing their plan to convert the beloved Swiss Fudge cookies from parve to dairy.
“Consumers should always try to make their voices heard,” Wasserman said, “and Trader Joe’s is a company that is smart enough to intelligently react to the consumer.”
He also noted that this change from parve to dairy has the potential to affect “ … not only the kosher consumer but anyone who is lactose intolerant.”
Chana Shusterman of Squirrel Hill ordered four cases of the chocolate chips from the South Hills store and shared them with about 10 friends.
“This was a good combination of shopping, chocolate and helping my friends out — my three favorite things to do in one shot,” she quipped.
For quality and price, TJ’s has the best parve chocolate chips on the market, she said. “What’s unique is that they melt better and tend to last in the refrigerator without turning white.”
Even though the announcement came on May 16, Shusterman said that the dairy-labeled chips were already on store shelves by Friday, May 18.
She sounded optimistic, though, when she predicted the issue would be resolved soon.
“First, there’s a huge demand and second, it seems like an easy fix,” Shusterman said. “Trader Joe’s is good about listening to their customers.”
Kisilinsky said his family is planning to share some of the chips with friends. Meanwhile, they are storing them in their basement to keep them cool; they’ll keep for two years.
“If you’re making something for Shabbos, a good-tasting parve chocolate chip makes a lot of desserts,” he said; “it’s maximum flexibility, especially since most Shabbos meals aren’t going to be dairy.”
(Hilary Daninhirsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)