‘Tulip will continue to be a premium brand’

An interview with Tulip CEO Roy Itzhaki, on his decision to sell 50% of the winery and go into partnership with powerful businessman Dudi Weissman.

Roy Itzhaki, owner and CEO of Tulip Winery. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Roy Itzhaki, owner and CEO of Tulip Winery.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Shortly after selling 50 percent of the Tulip winery to Alon Group CEO Dudi Weissman for an estimated NIS 20 million, winery owner and CEO Roy Itzhaki tells the story behind the scenes of the transaction.
“Five minutes into the first meeting, we felt like it was love at first sight. I do not fear that my power will be limited – exactly the opposite,” he says. “I know that going into a 50-50 partnership sounds like a bad idea, but my chemistry with Weissman is so amazing, it feels like we are getting married. We want to be equal partners and make every decision together.”
Weissman has personally acquired 50% of Tulip and its subsidiary company Adom Kaheh (Dark Red), which deals with importing wine. According to Itzhaki, the Weissman investment company has no desire to be involved in the daily management of the winery.
‘We looked for a partnership’ The Itzhaki family established Tulip in 2003, and the company is very much a family winery.
It was founded by Roy’s father, Itzhak, who retired from construction company A.
Aronson Ltd with stock holdings that were later transformed into a sizable fortune when it was sold to Russian-Israeli businessman Arkady Gaydamak in 2008.
The Itzhakis have always been wine lovers, and decided to make contributing to the community a major priority in the winery’s agenda. As such, Tulip is situated near Kiryat Tivon, in Kfar Tikva – a community for adults with developmental and emotional disabilities, some of whom work at the winery.
The connection with Weissman occurred after he announced he was interested in buying an Israeli winery and then spent the last two years visiting wineries all over the country. His daughter Moran, who is in charge of online sales for Mega – the supermarket chain that the Alon Group operates – is a wine lover herself, and she wanted to work with her father to turn the family hobby into an investment.
Detailing Tulip’s relationship with Weissman, Itzhaki explains that “Dudi has been a regular customer of the winery for many years, and makes an effort to drink our wines because he enjoys them, while appreciating the way we give back to the community. He came to us six months ago.... He is an amazing philanthropist and a very humble man, and we found a common language with him very quickly.”
Before that, the winery wasn’t exactly sitting on the shelf.
“Over the years, we have received many requests from different tycoons, but our family is not short of money,” he says. “It was clear to us that when a partnership of this sort would be implemented, it would only be when the motives were not financial, but for a strong partnership.”
According to Itzhaki, all plans for the winery will stay exactly as they were before the deal. There will be no personal changes to Tulip, he declares, and his managerial freedom will remain intact.
One of these plans is to launch a new boutique winery; construction has already been completed, and the boutique wines will be introduced next month.
Asked if there are plans to sell Tulip wines at the Alon Group’s retail chains – Mega and the Alonit convenience stores – he replies, “Absolutely not. Tulip is a premium brand sold only in wine stores and gourmet restaurants, and we will continue in exactly the same direction. Selling Tulip in chains could destroy the brand, which is not Dudi’s intention nor our own.”
‘Dudi can help us’ Tulip became kosher in 2011 and has since raised its production capacity significantly.
In 2013, the winery produced 220,000 bottles, with 25% for export.
Tulip’s main markets are in North America and Europe, but the wine also reaches China and Singapore; next month, it will begin exporting to Ireland.
According to Itzhaki, reaching the American market is the winery’s primary target, and one of the most important goals of the partnership is to deepen penetration in this market.
“Dudi has extensive contacts in the US – among others, Sheldon Stein, an independent director of Alon USA, who is also CEO of Glazer’s Distributors, America’s third-largest beverage distribution company,” he says. “One of the things we talked about is how we can use the American market in our best interest.
About 80% of our exports to the US are now sold in the kosher market, and we believe Dudi can help us reach even the non-kosher market.”
Translated by Maya Pelleg.