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"Israeli nursery provides over 700 varieties of fruit"

Ben Dor Fruits and Nurseries is an Israeli company that develops and supplies a large number of fruit varieties to growers in many countries. The company mainly specializes in stone fruit, but other major lines include top fruit, like apples and pears. “We’re working with growers in over 20 countries. We develop and test about 30 to 40 new varieties every year. Our priority is flavor, while dividing the stone fruit varieties into families with specific characteristics, creating a continuity of supply throughout the season,” explains Ido Ben Dor.

For this reason the company holds plant breeder rights and cultivates over 700 varieties in its orchards. It aims to provide premium quality fruit for every season, fresh from the tree. This means that the company needs varieties of plums or apricots that share the same qualities and appearance , but are suitable for production in all imaginable world regions and most types of climate.

“We want to supply to high end supermarkets, like Marks & Spencer and Morrison's and Tesco, throughout the whole year. Therefore we produce our fruit in Israel during the summer, while we produce through growers in the southern hemisphere during our off season in the winter; South African growers help to fill any gaps.”
According to Ido Ben Dor, his company needs at least 20 varieties to cover a season per family, during which varieties are changed every two weeks. “You can’t store apricots, nectarine and plums like pears, especially in the early stages of the season. While we bred a pear that can be held in cold storage for up to a year, keeping the same eating quality and crispness it had on the day it was picked, plums will deteriorate after a month to 3 months in storage. We need fresh products. We usually harvest a specific variety for two weeks from different orchards and follow this up with two weeks transit time. Due to our large catalog of varieties, we’re able to keep up this rotation in Israel for 7 months, starting from April/May.
The main competition in the retail market for Ben Dor comes from growers in Europe, who have a distinct advantage on cost and distance. “We need to compete on quality. Our growing and logistic costs will always be higher compared to European growers, so we need to distinguish ourselves in other ways. This is the reason why we’re targeting the high end retail market with premium quality products,” explains Ido Ben Dor.

Types of product
Some of the product types that Ben Dor develops are apricots, red flesh nectarines and watermelon plums. Their varieties range from black apricots and red flesh apricots to aromacots. “Aromacots are very sweet, aromatic apricots with a red blush. We also produce red fleshed nectarines that are very healthy and have a great flavor through mid to late season. A new concept of ours, which has been very successful in Israel, is the watermelon plum. It’s a special type of plum that owes its name to its green exterior and the very dark red flesh inside. On average, watermelon plums are sold for prices that are twice as much as regular plums.”

Another innovative product is the early apple variety Odem Galina. This is a bright red apple which doesn’t require the amount of chill hours that apples usually need. Before the introduction of the Odem Galina, the region of Israel wasn’t able to produce red apples due to its climate. After 25 years of development, Ben Dor managed to create a series of varieties, including the Odem Galina, which can be grown in areas with less than 200 chill hours. The season for Odem Galina apples starts two months ahead of other apple varieties in Europe, giving the Odem Galina added market opportunities. The apple is currently being grown commercially and tested in low chill areas around the world, with new varieties like the Avital, Bental and Pink Crunch continuing the line of early red apples.
As for the future, Ido Ben Dor mentions that his company has recently ventured in the production of avocados. He would also like to increase their apricot production up to the same level as their plums. Furthermore, the company would like to set up more local facilities in Europe.

Licensed growers
Growers in regions like South Africa and Chile are licensed to produce the varieties of Ben Dor. The company provides support on how to grow them. As Ben Dor is the owner of all variety licenses, the company is able to strictly manage production volumes in order to prevent oversupply. “We can’t always guarantee this, but we do try our best to optimize the prices for our products. We want to provide profitable crops for licensed growers.
Apart from the need for a year round supply, another reason for working with licensed growers is that the company itself isn’t able to meet all the demand in Israel. “One of our most promising products are red fleshed nectarines - nectargranates. They’ve been a big success in Israel and test samples we sent to the UK have met with very positive feedback. But right now, we can’t supply to all British supermarkets. You need about 100 hectares in mid to high chill areas to be able to provide enough fruit for three or four supermarkets. We’re not quite there yet, but we do have the necessary material to supply to licensed growers in Italy and Spain.”

At heart, Ben Dor Fruits is a nursery. The company has a few hundred hectares in Israel. Foreign growers visit the grounds of the company to personally experience how the fruit is grown, while also examining the performance of the product in target markets. Growers then test the varieties at their own location to see how they perform over there.
According to Ido, the main factor is climate. “In Israel, in our farm we usually have 200 to 400 hours of chilling units . In other locations it can vary from 100 to 1500 hours. So we need to supply suitable varieties. Another factor is altitude. Even in Israel, you can see significant differences between red fleshed nectarines grown at sea level or at 400 to 600 meters altitude, where the nectarines end up with superior quality. Other important factors are sunlight, humidity, rainfall, diseases that are present at the location, etc.”

A main challenge comes with the introduction of new types of fruit. Sometimes growers are afraid to try new products and it takes time to penetrate the market. Ben Dor Fruits’ watermelon plum took three years to reach consumers. “Our first priority is flavour. When consumers recognize a flavour they like, they come back. Our watermelon plums have now both gained in volumes and in price.”
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