Tel Aviv…Israel’s wine industry continues to score big with wine reviewers and in international competition, but its sales do not reflect its new status, several Israeli wine experts told Kosher Today. The experts say that the quality of Israeli wines “is still very much a secret, although it is slowly gaining traction.” In the first 10 months of 2010, Israel exported $18 million worth of wines, according to an extensive report released by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. But given its new prominence, say the experts, the figures should have been at least double. The latest confirmation of the quality of the Israeli wines came from noted wine critic Mark Squires who tasted 76 wines from 17 wineries, including such well-known wineries as Yarden and Golan Heights Wineries. As reported in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, 12 of the wines scored 90 and above. The top scorers were Castel Grand Van, Domaine du Castel 2008 and Sycra Muscat, Clos de Gat 2006, with 93 points each. Carmel Limited Edition, Carmel Winery 2007 and Yatir Forest, Yatir Winery 2007 were each ranked a 91. Avidan Winery’s Fringe Full Wine, 2008, and Tagkaton Blend des Noirs, 2008, each scored 90 points, as did Petit Castel, Domaine du Castel 2008 and Yarden Heights Wine, Golan Heights Winery 2008. Experts believe that the Israeli wines could better compete with other European wines, for example, if “there was a budget for marketing.” Others thought that the answer would come from better sales and distribution. There was a sense amongst the experts that the Israeli wines would “pick up steam” in the coming years but that “it will be a slow process.”
Tel Aviv…Has Israel become too small for Israel’s largest supermarket chains? It would seem that way from the recent buzz that both Supersol (Shufersal) owner Shulem Fisher and Co-Op owner Rami Mandel are expanding outside of Israel. Mandel has already gone public with his plans, announcing two years ago of plans to open as many as 10 stores in Jewish neighborhoods in the UK and the United States. Last week, Co-Op announced plans to open its first major kosher food supermarket in Moscow by the end of 2011 and then perhaps in St. Petersburg. The head of the Kashrut Department of the Chief Rabbinate of Russia, Rabbi Yosef Verzub, explained that this will be Russia’s first large kosher food supermarket.
Mr. Fisher has not as yet made his plans known but is said to seriously eye opening several stores in the US. The buzz began with the closing of the Pathmark store in Monsey, which sources say will be taken over in “some form” by Fisher. It was unclear whether the Monsey store would be modeled after the Yesh stores that cater to the Charedi (Orthodox) sector with bulk packages, discounted items, and other promotional programs geared for many of the large families that shop at some of the 53 Yesh stores. The sources also noted that the Fisher foray into Monsey will merely be the first of several stores the retailer plans to open. Ironically, the Super-Sol name, which was not affiliated with Israel’s largest chain, will soon disappear in the US. The first of four Super-Sol stores in Queens and Manhattan is set to open in Kew Garden Hills early next year under the name Seasons.
Tel Aviv…General Mills, one of the America’s food giants, is looking for a partner in Israel, to emulate successes by other multi national food icons like Nestle, which has been steadily growing its partnership with Osem and realizing significant profits. A General Mills delegation recently visited Israel’s Food Industries Association in anticipation of finding a partner in Israel. Interestingly, Pepsico which partnered with Strauss put its emphasis on growing the Sabra brand in the US. It is in the midst of a national marketing campaign to brand Sabra’s hummus and other Mediterranean salads. The General Mills delegation, according to Globes, is officially looking for “possible future cooperation,” but an Israeli food industry source told Kosher Today that their objective may very well be to “copy Nestle.” General Mills is a Fortune 500 company, and one of the world’s largest food companies, with some $25 billion in sales. It owns such well known brands as Hagen Dazs, Pillsbury, Yoplait, and many well-known cereals.
Tel Aviv…Several Israeli exhibitors at Kosherfest will not be coming directly from home this coming October. They will have made a stop at SIAL, the huge international food show that takes place several days earlier in Paris every two years. They will be part of a new 24 booth Israel pavilion that will follow a similar presence at ANUGA last year, a show that is held every two years in Cologne. Both shows are firsts for the Israelis as an organized pavilion, sponsored by the Israel Export Institute. With its superior technology, ideal climate for growing food ingredients, and new world class packaging, the Israelis are on a mission to dramatically expand food exports throughout the world. Michal Ne’eman of the Food Division of the IEI, told Kosher Today that last year’s foray in Anuga was highly successful, with many of the companies finding distributors in different parts of the world. The kosher status of the products has not hurt either as buyers from the US, Europe, and even the Far East showed interest. The IEI recently responded to a chain of stores from Thailand looking to stock kosher products in Bangkok for Jews who live there and for the many business travelers and tourists who also make the city a key destination for customers looking for kosher. In fact, Israeli food sources say that they would not be surprised if the Israelis showed up at a key food show in the Far East in the unforeseeable future. For whatever reason, say the sources, the Israeli government has suddenly found money to tackle these markets. Unlike a decade ago, the Israelis seem to have the production capacity to meet the demands of a growing market. Despite the attempts to broaden its horizons, Israelis still have to face a hostile and often ambivalent world that sees Israeli military action as one-dimensional. In fact, many Israeli manufactures were somewhat unnerved by the flotilla incident which one manufacturer said plainly is “not good for business.” If security is what they seek, none is better than the kosher market in the US, as is represented by Kosherfest. Israeli food exports to the US have risen dramatically in the past decade. Now Israelis are hoping for a cordial reception on the world stage of food exhibitions. The new slogan soon to be released for Israelis foods is “A Taste of Israel: A World of Flavors.”
Menachem Lubinsky is the founder and co-producer of Kosherfest, the annual trade event for the kosher food & beverage industry and is the editor-in-chief of KosherToday. Menachem Lubinsky is also the President and CEO of LUBICOM Marketing Consulting a firm that specializes in strategic business and not-for-profit planning and implementation.
Tel Aviv…by Staff Reporters…With his heavy French accent, Julian Atias, founder and owner of LIVEO (the O from Olive is at the end), speaks passionately of his high-end store on Rothschild Blvd that has taken olive oil to a whole new level. A few blocks away on Fryshman Street is another Olive oil boutique called Olia where Hila Venkert made a career change from the world of fashion to promoting exotic olive oil products. Many supermarkets throughout Israel carry several brands of olive oil, but not just bottles of the 100% virgin olive oil, but also jams, sauces, and mixes, which says Julian is all part of a new emphasis by many Israelis on wellness. Many of Hila’s customers, including the elderly, actually begin their day not with a cup of coffee or orange juice but with a cup of olive oil as a means of stimulating the good agents in the body. Julian’s olive oil comes from Kibbutz Revivim in the Negev with its 500 acres of olive trees grown under the best conditions. The kibbutz developed the technology to keep the salt underneath the soil to give the trees the ideal conditions for growing the olives. Julian’s store has nearly 100 different products made with olive oils, whether with the Israeli vintage olives Barnea or Souri or Italian Frantoio, a Tapendade spread that mixes parsley and sesame or a simple mix with sundried tomatoes.
Some of the customers are here to feel good while others are on an olive oil regimen prescribed by physicians to lower saturated fats. The various olive oil jams have become best sellers to Israelis looking for the blend of the sweet and the distinct olive taste. At Olia, Hila’s brother Nimrod is constantly producing new combinations at his plant in Nes Ziona, sometimes creating the conditions of foreign grown olive trees. The fusions at Olia “simply blow many tourists away,” says Hila. Blends like the Middle East blend with three different types of olives, infused figs that includes dried figs, sugar, balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, green olives and shata pepper. Customers have become as discerning with olives as wine connoisseurs are with their fine wines. Both Olian and LiveO also offer a full line of olive oil cosmetic products that many customers have come to associate with healthier and “younger looking” skin. The products in both stores are under rabbinical supervision and there is a growing interest in exporting these olive oil gourmet products that are taking Israelis by storm.
New York…With the summer travel season looming, leading kashrus officials in this country are preparing to respond to inquiries from travelers about kashrus overseas. While generally being familiar with symbols and organizations here, many vacationers find it hard to negotiate the standards and symbols overseas. What is fascinating, say kashrus officials, is that Israel is the most confusing. While the majority of Israel’s food establishments have certification by either the Chief Rabbinate or the local Rabbinate, the standards may vary from case to case. It is particularly perplexing to travelers who covet glatt kosher. Some establishments routinely interchange Glatt with Mehadrin, adding to the confusion. Then there is Bet Yosef glatt which is not always accepted by many Orthodox Jews. The certification by the Orthodox Union (OU) of some establishments (hotels and restaurants) in recent years has given American travelers and Americans living in Israel “a level of comfort.” One observer noted that at such high-end restaurants as Papagaio and Red Heifer, English was the language spoken. “It’s like you closed your eyes and imagined you were at an upscale restaurant in Manhattan.” It is also important to such popular hotels as the Ramada and Plaza in Jerusalem who attract American Orthodox Jews.
A leading kashrus official in Israel told Kosher Today that American tourists seeking the highest standard of glatt are aware of rabbis and agencies that meet their standards. He mentioned Rabbi Moshe Landau of Bnei Brak, Rabbi Avrohom Rubin of Rehovot and the Eda Hachreidit as examples of some of “the more acceptable certifications.” The rabbi acknowledged that certificates hanging in food establishments can be confusing, especially to tourists with limited command of the Hebrew language.
Tel Aviv, Chef Yonatan Roshfel of the upscale Herbert Samuel restaurant was recently ranked as being in first place in a list of rising stars by the prestigious culinary magazine Food&Wine. The news was disseminated by the Israel Export Institute in an effort to create what a food writer once called “the non-existent Israeli cuisine.” In fact, in a televised game show, a contestant described Israeli cuisine as “kosher food.” Unlike France and Italy, there is no international acclaim for Israeli cuisine. Israeli products are routinely labeled as Middle Eastern or even Mediterranean as the highly successful Sabra Salads is positioned n this country. Even Food&Wine characterized the cuisine at Herbert Samuel as “neo-Mediterranean.” As a melting pot, there is no monolithic cuisine that can be tabbed as Israeli. After all, Jews immigrated to Israel from the broader Diaspora bringing the local cuisine with them. But that has not stopped Israeli food officials from trying to create a new “Israeli cuisine.” Israeli chefs are often invited to participate in international competitions and they are certainly revered in the Jewish markets, particularly if associated with one of the leading hotels.
Industry officials point to Israeli wines that have leapfrogged into world-wide recognition, so much so that well established wine producers such as France, Italy and Spain have taken notice and are actively competing against the wines. Israeli food officials say flatly that the objective of establishing an Israeli cuisine is well worth the effort from a financial point of view. But the question becomes what besides the traditional Middle East dishes (i.e. hummus, tehina, falafel etc.) can Israel claim is authentically Israeli, a challenge many chefs have pursued. They are looking at many traditional French, Italian and Spanish dishes and trying to “Israelize” them, as one chef put it. Truth is that Israeli chefs are up to the challenge, creating dishes that compete favorably with world-class chefs, as anyone who has eaten at a leading Israeli hotel knows. The challenge at hand is to sell this new excellence to the rest of the world. The good news is that the nouveau Israeli cuisine is absolutely kosher.