Israel lies 6,000 miles away, and culturally it seems even more distant. Its food culture is the perfect blend of exotic and comfortable, and its food & beverage processors and ingredient suppliers can both stretch the American palate and supply its current wants.
Israel as a food processing partner has two big things going for it. Despite the country being mostly desert, it has a strong agricultural foundation, especially in fruits and vegetables that need a warm and sunny climate. And with a population of less than eight million, it's very export-minded.
On a recent tour there – admittedly sponsored by the Israel Export & International Cooperation Institute – I saw a number of finished food products that would do well here in the States; plus some novel ingredients that could give American processors an edge. Most of these companies are eager to find an American or Canadian partner to help them penetrate this market.
First, the food products. Dorot Garlic & Herbs (www.dorot.co.il) already has penetrated the U.S. market with its unique flash-frozen herbs and other vegetables. The ingredients sit in what resembles a miniature ice cube tray, each cube a typical portion of the ingredient, which thaws in minutes or goes directly into the frying pan or pot, while the rest go back in the freezer to stay fresh.
The key market is busy home cooks, who want to cook with fresh ingredients but not truly from scratch (the ingredients already are chopped and premeasured). These cooks also want small quantities of these "fresh" ingredients because they don't cook often enough to warrant typical quantities of these ingredients and the attendant expense.
Basil, parsley, garlic and other vegetable ingredients are grown on a large kibbutz in south Israel. They're cleaned and chopped or otherwise prepared and are flash-frozen on-site. Dorot already has shelf space in Trader Joe's and Whole Foods and American sales of $30 million a year.
The company is using the same freezing and packaging technologies to develop herb mixes, marinades, even pasta sauces in single-serve quantities that thaw quickly and cook like freshly made sauces (tomato, alfredo and sweet potato sauce) in three minutes. Perfect for single chefs.
Capitalizing on the fruit side of Israeli agriculture, Gan Shmuel Group has been turning especially citrus fruits into juices, nectars and other beverages since 1942. With its origins in the Israeli kibbutz system, the group owns citrus orchards covering nearly 5,000 acres.
Israel grows a plethora of tropical fruits. Lemon Tree dehydrates lemons into a powder that can be used in place of fresh lemons.
Gan Shmuel exports 85 percent of its products around the globe, has subsidiaries in Spain, Uruguay, Poland and Italy and is represented in 45 countries. Oranges, mandarins, grapefruits and lemons are its raw materials, and products include not-from-concentrate and concentrated juices, citrus cells, taste and aroma components, extract concentrates, compounds and bases and essential oils. Products are found in industrial, foodservice and retail.
Speaking of lemons, Lemon Tree (www.lemon-tree.co.il) is both a company and the product name for a powdered lemon juice. Concentrated and shelf-stable, the product can be used wherever lemon juice would be -- but it's sprinkled, rather than squeezed. Containing no sweeteners, preservatives or other components, the lemon powder is suitable for hot and cold beverages, fish, salads, etc. Lemon Tree is selling the powder in small stick packs for the retail market but also in industrial sizes for food processing and foodservice.
Gat Foods (www.gatfoods.com) is another company capitalizing on the availability of Israeli fruits. It's vertically integrated, owning many of the fields, even the seeds, where its products begin, then processing them into ingredients for itself and other beverage makers. It owns Prigat, the leading Israeli fruit-based beverage brand. It recently partnered with mineral water producer Neviot to create Water+, a lightly fruit-flavored drink using mineral water rather than purified water.
Gat's drink bases and emulsions, not-from-concentrate and concentrated juices and other fruit-based drink ingredients – some of them organic – also are used by a number of Israeli beverage companies.
Wake Up is a different type of beverage. Inno-Bev Ltd. (www.drinkwakeup.com) targets this natural energy beverage at the "post-lunch dip" (the company even has given siesta time the clinical acronym PLD). The 100ml (3.4-oz.) bottle contains guarana, gingko biloba, an apple sugar and elderberry. A double-blind clinical study confirmed its efficacy over coffee and a placebo.
Specific health benefits fill the larger bottles of Novel Creation (www.novelcreation.com). The liquid dietary supplements come in single-serve pouches (15ml) or in 450ml (15-oz) bottles to be mixed with a half cup of water.
Novel's Maximum Antioxidant is made from pomegranates and wild berries with coenzyme Q10. Maximum Sambucus combines black elderberry fruit and flower with acerola for general health and immunity. In addition to its named fruit, Maximum Cranberry includes juniper fruit and hollyhock root extracts supplemented by magnesium citrate and MSM. Other "Maximums" include curcumin, iron, co-Q10, calcium, multivitamin, red alga and "cleansing."