Ramie Hessel of Mehadrin

"We do business straight with retailers."

Mehadrin is an Israeli grower-based organisation, with vertical management from field to shelf. According to Ramie Hessel, Vice President Citrus Export, what this entails is “we do most of our business with retailers; we don’t just ship to the Dutch or French wholesale market and wait for the Messiah to arrive.”

About 70 to 75% of the company’s exports and sales in the local market are of products coming from their own plantations. “The size of the business is quite unique and the total acreage for avocado, citrus and root vegetables, including carrots and potatoes is under our control,” affirms Ramie.

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Ramie Hessel, Vice President Citrus Export, checks the sweetie

In addition to Israel, the firm has four branches, in Switzerland, France, the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands. It also has account managers for the Far East, North America and South America. Ramie states that “we are dramatically increasing our business in North America and the Far East. In Asia, we are working strongly with Korea, Japan and China.”

Ramie explains that one of the worst difficulties comes from the exchange rates. The situation with the Russian market is particularly catastrophic for capsicum growers. “We are developing now the avocado in Russia and we hope to sell more Sharon fruit because of the embargo to Europe, but otherwise we don’t see many opportunities because of the political situation and the Rubal exchange rate to the US$ .”

Mehadrin started the season in a better situation than last year. It kicked off with small volumes of pomelo and it continued with red and white grapefruit. “We are doing great business with grapefruit in Korea, but unfortunately we don’t have the FTA, so we are paying 30% customs duties, as opposed to U.S. fruit producers, who pay practically none,” says Ramie.

According to Ramie, it has been a difficult year for red grapefruit in Israel. “Some 500 hectares have been uprooted as a result of many consecutive bad years, although I don’t believe this will have an impact on exports, as less production will go to the industry.”

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Overview of the packing house of Mehadrin near by Ashkelon

As for white grapefruit, “when the degreening ends in about two weeks, we’ll need to start picking for long term cold storage, and the fruit will stay in perfect condition until March. With this, we supply supermarkets until the late season.”

Continuing with citrus, the harvest of the Suntina, which is similar to Spain’s Clemenvilla, will start in about 2 weeks. This fruit goes to destinations like the United States, Scandinavia the UK and other markets. “Then, in January, we will move to the Orri, which is one of the backbones of our industry, of which Mehadrin alone owns about 1,500 hectares.”

Ramie states that “we certainly hope we will not face the same weather issues as last year; we expect a record production due to higher yields and new plantations coming into production. Unless the weather prevents it, we expect to continue with the Orri packing until late April.”

When it comes to easy peelers, Ramie believes that the growth potential is still huge. “In 2-3 years, we may reach 200,000 tonnes, and 150 to 160,000 will be for export. Clients consider the Orri better than all other late varieties, like the Tango.”
Regarding lemons, Mehadrin has two sorts, including the Interdonato, which is normally kept for the domestic market, although it has good potential for export in the window before Spain and Turkey enter with great volumes. “There is some demand from the countries that demand the red grapefruit, but lemons will remain a niche for us in the export market,” states Ramie.

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The packing house

In the orange market, Mehadrin starts with the Navel and continues with the Shamouti. “The latter is an oval orange with a very special taste; it is easy to peel and has a very good balance, with some acidity, but also high Brix,” explains Ramie. “The majority of it goes to the domestic market and 12 to 13,000 tonnes are exported, mainly to Scandinavia and the UK.”

In recent years, the company has also invested in a new late Navel variety, easy to peel, with a very good taste and plenty of juice, which also provides great yields and nice calibres. “This year we’ll already produce some 5000 tonnes of which 1500 will be shipped to Scandinavia and the States, as well as the domestic market.”
Regarding the future of Israel’s citrus industry, Ramie expects “there will be some adjustment in the size of the grapefruit sector and that easy peelers will grow. There’s a problem with finding labourers, and to be able to achieve continuity and a reasonable time for operation, you need more early varieties.”

This year, one of the company’s challenges with the Orri, which will see a 25% increase in volume, will be in the sorting; an aspect in which Mehadrin is making large investments for the introduction of new high-end equipment in the packing houses.

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Ramie Hessel looks at the harvested crop of avocados

Avocados
Avocados are one of the biggest products in Mehadrin’s portfolio. Last year, it exported over 22,000 tonnes. “We have many new plantations, mainly Hass, and also good outlets for the fruit. In France we own very large ripening facilities and we are supplying avocados practically all year round, with imports from Peru and Chile,” states Ramie.

Sharon Fruit
The firm’s production is small, reaching about 3 to 4 thousand tonnes, Ramie says that “although we have a good market for it working through programmes, I don’t know what the future holds for them.”

Dates
Mehadrin is also a big date grower, of which it produces some 6,000 tonnes of the medjool variety and another 1,000 of other varieties. Ramie affirms that “we already exported some this year, about 1,500 tonnes. The domestic market is also very important for us, supplying both supermarkets and wholesalers.”

Ramie explains that “the yield for dates is not high, but the potential is still quite big and the margins very wide. With the medjool, as long as the quality and marketing are good, the sky is the limit.”

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For more information:
Ramie Hessel
Mehadrin
Tel: +972 3 937 1321
hesselr@mtex.co.il
www.mehadrin.co.il

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