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Israeli exporters must find niche
Oron Ziv (Managing Director of Befresh Europe)
A late citrus season from the southern hemisphere and the abundance of red grapefruit on the European market resulted in low prices. For Israeli citrus exporters, who typically make a significant portion of their money in the few weeks between the end of the South African season and the beginning of the Turkish season, it hasn't been a good year. For Befresh's Oron Ziv, such a situation highlights the need for Israeli exporters to find a profitable niche amongst strong global competition.
Citrus field in the Valley of Israel
“The advantage that Israel has enjoyed in the past has been the gap in seasons between the South African and Turkish seasons,” said Ziv. “But late production from South Africa meant there was a lot of fruit, so growers sent their fruit to a very stiff market.” He noted that this is the third year in a row in which Israel's red grapefruit growers have not gotten the returns they had hoped for, and that's causing many citrus growers to reconsider red grapefruit and opt for a more lucrative commodity. Ziv explained that looking for those lucrative pockets, whether they come from new varieties or well-timed forays into the market, is essential for survival.
In the packing house the citrus is washed, waxed, sorted, labelled and packed
“You have to find a niche,” said Ziv. “You have to find something that distinguishes you from everyone else.” Israel's orange growers, for example, found they could not compete with growers in Egypt and other places with cheap labour and low water costs, so now there are very few growers in Israel who cultivate oranges. He pointed to the easy peeler citrus as the big thing right now, especially the Orr clementine.
Workers pack the citrus
“The Orri has some competition from the Nadorcott, but consumers very much prefer the taste and quality of the Orri,” said Ziv. European consumers, in general, are turning to the easy peeler varieties of citrus, and the Orri's added quality makes it a favourite amongst growers. Ziv noted that demand currently outstrips supplies, so prices for the Orr remain about 50 percent higher than other typical clementines. More importantly for Israeli growers, they are currently the only ones growing this variety.
“The Orr is one of the nicest things Israel can offer right now,” said Ziv. “It takes a long time to develop a new variety and build a market for it, about 15 years, but now the forecast is very good for the Orri.”
The packing house manager an Oron Ziv
Red pomelo growers also had a good window of opportunity this season due to a dip in Chinese exports. While the majority of Israel's pomelo growers shifted to other crops when a wave of cheap Chinese fruit hit the market about five years ago, Chinese exporters experienced problems with residue on their fruit early this season. That meant that those Israeli growers who stuck with the red pomelo were able to reap good prices around September. Sweetie growers, similar to Orr growers, have also enjoyed a good season due to their position in the market as the only providers of the citrus fruit.
Befresh, which secures their citrus from growers in a region known for its citrus and avocado production, works closely with its growers to ensure quality products for its customers. With those connections, Ziv believes Befresh can expand its reach beyond the European and Russian markets, where it currently sends the majority of its fruit.
“The Asian market is very interesting, though there are many barriers to entry,” said Ziv. “But wherever we export, we work closely with growers to market their crop and get the most money we can for it.”
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