X-mas shoppers buying Israeli [pg. 15]

The holiday season in the US and Europe is benefiting Israeli companies, some of which are seeing sales increase by as much as 50 percent, as gift givers look to Israeli products for their Christmas and New Year's presents. Shoe manufacturer Teva Naot reported a 20 percent increase in holiday sales over the same period as last year, producing nearly 32,000 extra pairs of shoes for mostly US consumers. The boost is especially sweet for Teva, which operates its factory on the outskirts of Kiryat Shmona and typically begins its holiday production during July and August. As a result of the war in Lebanon, however, the company's activities were severely restricted during what usually are its busiest months with only 30 of its usual 230 workers reporting for work, said Hadas Zioni, the company's advertising manager. "After the war, we just worked more hours and put in more time to make the deliveries available," Zioni explained. Meanwhile, Ben Ezer Plantation, which specializes in gift baskets containing citrus fruits, Israeli wines and chocolate delicacies, said it is preparing to send 50,000 gift packages abroad during the holiday season, marking a 30% rise over last year. "We did a lot marketing this year and many of our customers who used to send 10 boxes are now sending 15 or 20," said its co-general manager Sharona Schnitzer. Ben Ezer targets customers with a Christmas and New Year's catalogue on its Web site for North American, European and even Asian destinations. Working in cooperation with Ben Ezer is package delivery courier, TNT Express Israel, which has reported a 50% hike in its package deliveries this season. Much of the increase is a result of a deal between the two companies in which Ben Ezer is shipping 90% of its packages through TNT, said Guy Bar-Or, TNT sales and marketing manager. Despite these boosts in sales, David Artzi, chairman of the Israel Export Institute, downplayed their overall impact on Israel's exports. Noting that exports are up by 12% this year in general, Artzi said the gift market was only a small percentage of the overall market. Although the institute does not analyze holiday numbers specifically, Artzi estimated its worth at no more than $100 million. "If you take into account that the monthly exports from Israel are between $3-$4 billion, the holiday portion within the total number of exports is not so big," he said. Nevertheless, Ahava, Israel's popular manufacturer of Dead Sea skin products, said it typically sees increases in sales of between 35% and 50% around the holiday season. The company encourages Christmas sales in the US and Europe by offering gift promotions and special kits, said Simona Pachter, an international account manager with the company.