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Tea's Success in Israel.

Wissotzky Tea (Israel) Ltd., has a reputation for quality and enjoys great success throughout Israel. Shalom Seidler, managing director, talked to Jane Pettigrew about his family's company.

In 1849, Klonimus Wolf Wissotzky, a shrewd and discerning Russian businessman, recognized the potential for success in the buying and selling of tea. At a time when tea was traded by agents and brokers rather than by established companies, Wissotzky set up in business, building a factory in Moscow and later another in Odessa in the Ukraine. The company grew rapidly and by the turn of the century, according to The House of Dudwell's centenary brochure of 1958, Wissotzky was the largest tea company in the world. They were almost entirely responsible for all the buying, forwarding, and shipping of China teas within Russia, at that time one of the largest tea markets in the world for China's teas.


Rapid expansion and success throughout Europe led the company to open offices in several European cities. The London office was established in the tea area of the city in 1907 by one of the greatest Russian Jewish philosophers of the time, a man by the name of Ginsburg who was better known as Ahad Haam (which means in Hebrew "one of the people," for he wished everyone to think of him as a simple and ordinary person). His job in London, from 1907 to 1922, was to purchase tea through the London auctions and to take responsibility for Wissotzky's British operations. During this period, the company acquired plantations in both India and Ceylon, and continued to flourish in Russia and western Europe.

Wissotzky also established a successful branch of the company in the U.S. By 1912-1913, millions of Russians had fled from their native country because of the threat posed to them and their families by communist activities, and Wissotzky realized that the company was losing vast numbers of tea drinkers to America. So, instead of simply watching them leave, branches were set up in the U.S. to cater to those customers' needs.


If it had not been for the communist revolution and subsequent government business take-overs, the Wissotzky story--like that of thousands of other companies--would obviously have been very different. The company was not in fact immediately nationalized by the communist government, mainly because it had a good reputation for treating employees fairly arid decently; so it was not until 1919, two years after the revolution, that the family lost control and fled to America, France, and other much safer places all over the world.

Meanwhile, in Danzig, Shalom Seidler's grandfather kept the Polish branch operating to market tea to other East European customers. In 1936, Seidler's father, who as then 27 years old, realized that all was not well in Eastern Europe and asked his father for permission to leave Poland, settle in Israel. and put up a modern tea packing factory there.

At the time of his arrival, Wissotzky teas were already available in Israel, since Ahad Haam had been exporting the company's products from London under the name Anglo-Asiatic Co. London, the title Wissotzky took for the British operation in 1911. And Wissotzky teas were also being shipped to Israel from Poland. In 1922, Ahad Haam decided to leave London and settle in Israel and set up the Anglo-Asiatic Co. (Palestine Branch) of Wissotzky Teas. In 1927, Haam died and, with no-one to drive it forward, the Israeli branch of the business declined rapidly. So when Seidler's father arrived in 1936, the name was known but did not enjoy a particularly high profile. He immediately built a packing facility, pushed the name, built up the range of products, and started the recovery process.

Because almost all the Wissotzky family lost their lives during World War II, all the other branches and factories in Europe ceased to exist, but the operation in Israel grew stronger and stronger. When Seidler's father died in 1957, his mother -- with her shrewd and dynamic understanding of business and marketing -- continued to drive the activities of the company. In a country where British standards and rules still prevailed, she broke rules and changed attitudes, pushing the company into the modern age. She was responsible, in 1961, for the move to market tea in bags as well as loose tea, and for improving the technological approach to the business. But she always maintained the family policy that quality and customer service must come first. And the company's respect for their customers has, over the 150 years of its existence, won it a loyal following and a market share today of 80%, despite the fact that almost every other large tea company in the world has at some time operated in Israel.


In 1968, Shalom Seidler traveled to London to work in the branch office there, to learn about the tea trade, and to build up his own knowledge and expertise. After three years, he returned to Israel and, with his mother, set about improving the tea bagging operation. The existing machinery -- English and adapted to teabag manufacture rather than purpose-built -- only produced 70-80 bags a minute and badly needed replacing. The IMA machines in use today have vastly improved speed and efficiency and manufacture teabags that have no staple. The company, one of the first to take a stand on the issue, has campaigned for several years against the use of metal staples in teabags.

In 1991, Wissotzky became aware of the imminent arrival of Lipton teas into Israel and in order to maintain and increase its own market share, started to produce other tea related products as well as the standard range of blended and single source teas from India, Sri Lanka, Africa, and China. They now offer a number of herbals and fruit infusions as well as fruit teas that are blended with fruit pieces and natural flavorings. In 1996, RTD iced tea were introduced to the range and, in a country where high temperatures create a constant need for thirst quenching drinks, a modern packaging style and up-to-the-minute marketing techniques and promotional activities have changed tea's rather old-fashioned image and attracted new customers from among the younger age groups. Lipton and Nestea have both tried to establish their iced teas in Israel, but Wissotzky apparently still has 65-70% of the iced tea market share.

Three hundred employees now work for the company--at the original site and at four depots around the country. A new factory, to be built near Tel Aviv, is being planned for the new millennium. Israel's population today totals over 6 million people and the potential for increased sales is growing all the time.

Seidler's dream is to also reestablish the company in all the locations where they had a presence before the World War II. Since 1996-97, exports are going to the U.S. and the operation there is going well. Russia will be the next market to move back into, and since there are still elderly people there who remember the name, it should not be too hard to find new customers.

Presentation is obviously important in maintaining existing markets and pioneering new ones and Wissotzky wins prizes for theirs. But the most important aspect of the company's work is the maintenance of quality and consistently high standards of service, and it is those factors that have won them their continued success and customer loyalty.
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Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Aug 20, 2000
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