Technology at the Service of Israeli Agriculture- Avocado Shipping
Interview with Moti Azari, Reefer Department Manager, ZIM Israel
We met with Moti Azari to talk about how ZIM’s reefers, equipped with the latest CA technology, are used to export avocado from Israel to several corners of the world.
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and your time at ZIM.
Azari: I’ve been with ZIM for about 12 years, managing the reefers’ trade business for most of that time. I am responsible for supporting our customers in everything related to transporting refrigerated cargo, including food products and high-value pharmaceuticals. This is in line with the company’s strategy of growing this important business.
Q: Israel was always known for its citrus exports, but we understand this is changing now.
Azari: Indeed. Our country was renowned for its exports of citrus, oranges primarily, mainly to Europe. However, in recent years, Europe has found other sources for these products, such as Morocco, Spain, Tunis, and Algeria, which are nearer and more economical. Let us also not forget the political situation, whereby many countries in Europe ban Israeli products, making it a difficult market to penetrate. This has forced farmers and exporters to look not only for other markets for their produce (today these being mostly Russia, the Far East, and North America) but also for other products to export.
Q: So, where is the focus now?
Azari: Because of the limitations I mentioned, farmers had to look for alternative products and, in a way, ‘reinvent’ themselves. If until a few years ago the main exports were citrus and pepper, for example, now other countries farm them very well and local Israeli growers find it difficult to compete. So, in typical Israeli fashion, they adapted to the geopolitical conditions and converted their farming areas to become suitable for other products where we feel we have an advantage. One of these is avocado.
Q: Can you give us some numbers?
Azari: Absolutely. Israel is one of the leading avocado exporters in the Middle East. While some 80% of our exports go to western EU countries, we also export to Russia, South Africa, Japan, Korea, China, the US, and Canada. Avocado exports are in a constant upward trend due to increased consumption in the target markets and expansion of growing areas in Israel. Avocado is grown in all regions of the country, and the area of plantations increases from year to year also thanks to our advanced irrigation techniques. We also grow several varieties, all of which are considered premium products.
Q: Are avocado exports enjoying ‘smooth sailings’?
Azari: Not at the beginning. While Israel has a marked advantage growing avocado, farmers had to overcome serious obstacles, namely very long voyages to western Europe or other markets that damaged the product, or shipping through areas that applied very high taxes on the products.
Today, thanks to controlled-atmosphere (CA) reefers technology, all these obstacles can be overcome. Avocado is a breathing product that requires a regulated respiration atmosphere that slows its ripening. Reefer technology is ideal for transporting breathing cargo over longer periods and distances. It regulates O2 and CO2 levels, actively removes ethylene (a hormone released by fruit and vegetables that accelerates their ripening), and ensures that avocado reaches the target markets as fresh as on the day it was picked.
Q: How does ZIM fit into this new Israeli export?
Azari: We were not a very strong player in this field. However, two years ago, ZIM’s management made a strategic decision to focus on the CA market. In fact, they took a two-pronged decision:
Penetrate into the refrigerated avocado transportation market as of September 2018 (taking advantage of the fact that season is from September to March)
Become a market leader in this business
I am very happy to say that the objectives are not only being met but also exceeded. From a market-share of 35% to 40% back in 2018, we are now reaching a share of 50% and continue to grow. And we have definitely reached the position of a market leader.
Q: What are the plans for the future?
Azari: We want to continue to thrive in the refrigerated products’ market. We plan to expand Israeli exports in other areas, as well as to continue to invest in technology to ensure our reefers provide better conditions for perishable goods. We also invest a great deal in service and customer satisfaction, including a professional reefers sales group and support teams that provide 24/7 service anytime, anywhere. We are also expanding our fleet of reefers to help our customers reach more destinations. The future of ZIM’s reefers’ business looks indeed very bright, I’m happy to say.