As the economy continues to grapple with the outbreak of COVID-19, Ma’ariv and Bank Hapoalim are running a special feature, sharing and following stories of businesses in different regions and sectors and offering insight and support in coping with the current crisis and uncertainty. Every week, we will share practical tools, as well as offering insight and guidance into opportunities for financial and business development and growth in this challenging environment.
The information contained herein is accurate as of the day of publication, and should not be understood as an alternative to professional consulting services that take into account the specific circumstances of the individual and are tailored to meet their needs. The aforementioned should not be understood as an offer for credit, loan provision and/or deferred repayments, subject to the terms and conditions and approval of the bank. Inability to keep up with payments may incur charges on interest in arrears or repossession proceedings.
I’m a farmer whose primary produce is passion fruit, the son of a farming family from Talmei Elazar (northeast of Hadera). Four years ago I set up Jungle Yashir (Direct Jungle) together with my business partner, Johnny Dishi, one of the leading pineapple growers in Israel.
The farm specializes in premium exotic fruits such as papaya, star fruit, sugar-apple, lychee, mango, avocado, and of course passion fruit and pineapple. Our partnership enables us to share our knowledge and to sell the produce primarily within the local market – to wholesalers as well as some to supermarket retailers.
Before the coronavirus, we employed about ten employees between us, including some Thai workers. Some of them left and some remained.
Luckily for us, the sector of the food industry that we are active in was not impacted by the first lockdown as it was considered a critical sector. At the start of the period, there was a drop in sales because people were unsure about what was happening and were nervous about the future.
Slowly but surely though, it began to recover. People were sitting at home unable to go out and spend money, so they compensated for it with food. We identified the potential challenges very early on and began to consider our options. I, for example, reduced my passion fruit orchard from 25 acres down to 15, knowing that we would expand it back to its original size when the Thai workers returned.
The coronavirus period made us understand that we need to switch to direct sales of our produce. Already during the pilot stage, our impression was that people were beginning to understand more and more how simple it is to buy over the phone and receive the produce direct to their homes.
At the moment we are continuing to develop our customer base, and at the same time working on a website and an option for online sales. I want to note that this was made possible through the close cooperation we received from the bank staff at the Ofakim branch.
Today, many of our private customers gather together to form “buyers’ groups” – one person in a neighborhood or village receives our price list, passes it on to the other members of the group or simply makes the purchase themselves. We receive orders at the start of the week and distribute them around the country on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, to everyone’s satisfaction.
The writer is a co-owner of “Direct Jungle,” growers and sellers of exotic fruits,
Moshav Talmei Elazar. Tel: 050-8789707
The Neighbors Were Impressed by the Deliveries and Placed Orders Too
My grandmother and grandfather, Sara and Ya’akov Schwartz, set up the farm. They were Satmar Hasidim who came to Israel after the Holocaust and were among the first to settle in Sde Eliezer in the Galilee Panhandle. My father Tzvika continued their work, and now I do the same.
We are different from other dairy farms, because we have a pen with a thousand sheep as well as a production facility that processes its own milk – rather than importing it from outside – converting it into 50 different types of gourmet sheep milk cheeses. We have refrigerated trucks, and we work with boutique stores and delicatessens all over the country.
When the first lockdown began, we carried on working as normal, because we were recognized as a critical sector within the food industry. But there was a problem, because the hotels and restaurants shut down, and I found myself facing fridges full of expensive cheeses.
That was the moment I decided to switch to direct sales to private customers. So I started to sell my vast amount of products primarily through Facebook, running around the country with bags, from one home to the next – and it took off. I offered fair prices, and people even began to place regular orders for cheese from us.
There are buildings in central Israel, for example, where many residents became customers of ours. That happened because people ordered and received fresh, high-quality, kosher products in visually appealing packaging direct to their door, and their neighbors were impressed and began to place orders, too.
Today, many of our customers search specifically for our products at the delicatessens. Our leading products are ‘Cherie’ – an aromatic hard cheese; ’Yoav ’ – a sirene (known here as ‘Bulgarian cheese’) that is aged for nine months; ’Tamar ’ – a sheep’s milk cheese with truffles; and ’Yonatan ’ – a sheep’s milk cheese with blueberries.
After the first wave of the coronavirus, we decided to set up a farm shop in Sde Eliezer. The shop will be opening in the near future, and it will stock our entire range of boutique cheeses as well as additional premium products such as wines and other high-end products.
The writer is the owner of Schwartz Sheep’s Milk Cheese Farm,
Sde Eliezer. Tel: 054-8007606
High Standards in Managing Deliveries
The pandemic has accelerated the DTC trend (direct-to-consumer), meaning that more and more producers are deciding to pass over the retail chains and develop their own direct distribution channels. There are several advantages to such a decision, most of which relate either to an improved profit margin or an increase in sales.
For those who are not used to regular work with end-consumers, there are a number of important points worth making, the first of which regards trust and confidence. As the customer is passing up on the chance to select their own produce and is letting the farmer choose for them, they must be convinced that the produce they receive is as fresh and high-quality as what they would choose for themselves.
Secondly, remember that Israeli consumers is already experienced when it comes to deliveries, and they have high expectations. Entering the home delivery market? Aim for a high standard of delivery management.
And it’s important to treat your customers – figures are showing that consumption of premium products has increased in recent months. So yes, tell them about your special cheeses and show off your unique tropical fruits – this is the time.
The writer is a strategic marketing consultant and a lecturer in marketing at the College of Management
Business Expansion via Digital Channels
In order to overcome this period, farmers are having to reinvent themselves in response to a constantly shifting environment. Partnerships and direct-to-consumer sales are among the available options. When these are embedded as part of a digital platform, a new and large market becomes available, one that offers a path to expansion in this challenging time, partially through products that were not targeted in the past.
That is exactly what our farmers here have done—partnerships, expanding the product range, building a platform for sales and orders, deliveries and of course, pre- and post-sale customer service.
It is very important to be in touch with the bankers in your branch so they can identify the ideal financing solution. They will have a range of solutions available, including the state-backed fund. Close collaboration also makes it possible to manage the cash flow forecast, and providing tailored support is critical for success.
It should be noted that there is currently a new business initiative underway in Ofakim, “Negev 19” – in partnership with the local council, the Western Negev Cluster of Regional Councils and Bank Hapoalim – which seeks to develop new websites, online stores and digital channels for businesses, with an emphasis on the western Negev and the Gaza envelope regions.
The writer is the manager of the Ofakim branch of Bank Hapoalim