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Neither scuds nor high insurance rates stop Israel from exporting frozens.

Neither Scuds Nor High Insurance Rates Stop Israel from Exporting Frozens

Production continues unabated throughout Gulf War missile terror attacks as factories work overtime to feed domestic needs and fill foreign orders.

The Israeli frozen food industry has held up remarkably well despite fallout from the Arabian Gulf War, according to reports from Tel Aviv. Indeed, domestic demand for frozen products boomed with the approach of the Jan. 15 United Nations-imposed deadline for Iraq's occupying army to leave Kuwait. In preparation for Saddam Hussein's threat to attack Israel should hostilities break out, consumers stocked up on provisions with long shelf lives.

The country's small shops, supermarkets and hypermarkets were mobbed with customers. And it was the duty of frozen food manufacturers and distributors to see that the stores were amply supplied.

Tnuva, Israel's chief distributor of meat, fish and chicken, kept its cool as Scud missile strikes heated up. A company spokesman announced over the radio: "We have seen to it that supplies have arrived."

Frozen food factories had to cope with extra workloads in spite of the fact that many of their employees are mothers and grandmothers with families. Frightened children rang the plants, worried that Iraq would launch poison gas attacks while they were home alone.

When the first missile bombardments came, Israel was immediately placed under a strict curfew. People were allowed to go out for just a few hours daily to shop. Only vital industries were authorized to remain operational. That meant, of course, that frozen food factories were open for business. Laborers on production lines were ordered to keep masks at the ready. And every workplace set aside sealed rooms for refuge in the event of a chemical assault. Many women brought their children to work with them, while some employers provided onpremise child care.

The home front was not the only destination for manufactured products. Israel's frozen food factories had to keep pipelines open to overseas customers or risk losing contracts. As exports are the lifeblood of many firms, workers appreciated that their jobs could be at stake.

Shipments from almost every factory went out on time. "No problem," factory managers told this reporter.

Doron Engels, manager of Sunfrost, commented: "We are positive. Everything is working as usual with exports going out through Zim, the merchant shipping line. And all of our 300 employees have turned up."

Notwithstanding the trouble facing Israel, Sunfrost has landed new business. It recently signed an agreement to export $250,000 worth of ready prepared kosher meals to the United States. The company sends some $10 million worth of frozen foods abroad annually.

Of-Tov, an outfit supplying meat products to Switzerland, South Africa, France and Germany, announced that everything was under control, with orders being met as usual.

The Man fish processing company had a special export problem. Its first shipments to Italy, a new market, were due shortly after the war to liberate Kuwait broke out and Scuds began falling on Israel as Saddam vainly maneuvered to draw the Jewish state into the conflict. But staff worked loyalty to fulfill all orders.

Soglowek and Of Haemek, two meat processing factories, reported that their full ranges of products were arriving at export markets on time. "Everything is getting out," said a spokesman.

Meanwhile, the firm Baladi updated its hamburger packaging as Israelis began going back to cheaper meats in a move to economize due to the war. The company produces steaks and turkey meat products. Its line is veterinary supervised and kosher. A five portion hamburger pack costs about $3.

Yarden is a concern that represents a large number of Israel's frozen food factories, managing their exports to global markets. A breakdown in its supply line would have been catastrophic for large segments of the industry.

A Yarden spokesman reported: "All meat, poultry, frozen vegetable and fish products are being transported by El Al as before. Customers in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Connecticut will find everything on the supermarket shelves as usual."

The Dan Kibbutz has a factory producing frozen trout sourced from a local river. While not an exporter, it contributed 500 packages of product to hotels where people whose homes had been destroyed by Scuds were temporarily housed.

Toughing it out throughout the crisis was Ben and Jerry's, the American ice cream restaurant chain with a branch in Tel Aviv. The Dizengoff Street outlet remained open throughout the missile bombardments, a time when many stores closed as their owners fled the city for safety in Jerusalem and rural areas.

Still, there wasn't a lot of business to conduct as few people had the time or inclination to sit down and eat ice cream. "No matter," said the shop's manager, "we decided to stay open. It just wouldn't be like a stubborn Vermont company to close down in the face of difficulties."

During the early weeks of Operation Desert Storm, a popular chain of food shops in Israel, doing business as The Green Wave, reported a 70% increase in frozen food sales. Popular items included vegetables, schnitzels, pizzas, soups and casseroles. Customers said they opted to prepare convenient dishes that took less time and supervision as sirens warning of impending Scud attacks often interrupted cooking.

Dag Shaan, a frozen fish company in Beit Shean, continues to send its frozen carp and St. Peter's fish from the Sea of Galilee to markets in Europe and the United States. Unfortunately, however, buyers in France cancelled some of their orders during the war. However, the company believes that business will return to normal now that hostilities have ended.

Transport Problems

There were additional problems to contend with. El Al was the only airline flying during the war as others with routes to Israel suspended service. The national carrier managed to get all the freight out without a hitch.

The Zim line, responsible for sealifted cargo, saw many of its foreign national sailors desert, sometimes while their vessel was docked far from its final port of call. But the goods eventually got to their destinations. A Zim official remarked: "This just goes to prove that we need Israeli crews."

The cost of freight insurance during the beginning of the Gulf War rose to the point where it was not profitable to ship. This prompted the Israeli government to step in and cover the extra charges, which kept things moving.

PHOTO : Economically-priced Baladi hamburger packs have become more popular among consumers in recent months.
COPYRIGHT 1991 E.W. Williams Publications, Inc.
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Author:Carr, Judy
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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