The Land is on Sabbatical, We Are Not
Moti Azari - Reefers Department Manager
This past September, Jews around the world celebrated the Jewish New Year. But for some, it’s not like any other year. This year is what’s known as a Shmita, a year-long sabbatical, which occurs every seven years. The Shmita originates in the Torah and has been rooted in agricultural and economic systems for decades.
We had the opportunity to meet with Moti Azari, Manager of the Reefer Department, who highlighted how the Shmita, among other recent events, could influence Israel’s growing reefer market.
The Agricultural Impact of the Shmita Year
In the Shmita year, agricultural lands are to lie fallow. The duration of the Shmita occasionally raises a debate since it doesn’t begin and end on a certain date nor does each product harvest at the same time. Although traditionally the Shmita lasts for one year, it affects consumers well beyond that time – usually extending to a period of up to a year and a half.
The Shmita applies to fruits and vegetables planted from Rosh Hashana and ahead. If produce was planted or harvested during the year of Shmita, it is prohibited to put on the market. Potatoes, carrots, onions, beets, apples, and pears are all examples of agricultural Shmita products that are usually planted before the new year and take several months to harvest. In this case, they are permitted to be used the following year and possibly beyond.
While the Shmita applies to Jews both in Israel and abroad, this year has seen a significant increase in imports by almost 30% compared to an average year. Most imports come from Europe, North America, the United States and especially Turkey, exporting the widely popular “Turkish Tomatoes” from Mersin. Since much of Israel’s imports are also grown outside the boundaries of Israel, produce out of Jordan and the Gaza Strip remain a solution for prioritizing agricultural imports during the sabbatical year.
As for Israeli exports, Moti gladly explains that while Shmita greatly increases Israeli imports, exports will be just as strong: “Just like history shows us, Israel is indeed a land flowing with milk and honey. The incredible amount of agricultural produce is just waiting to be collected.”
ZIM’s Strategy for Reefer Shipping During the Shmita Year
The Israeli reefer market exports many different commodities annually, including processed foods, frozen juices, and pharmaceuticals. Highly acclaimed exports like avocados and local dates have recently become a growing export commodity out of Israel. These exports are being transported to relatively close destinations – 50% to Northern Europe, 30% to Russia and the rest are transported to Asia and North America. Nearly 90% of Israel’s variety of agricultural goods are seasonal, growing during the wintertime between September and June.
ZIM is one of the few global carriers in the industry offering a diverse range of reefer services that go to almost all destinations and offer a customer service of the highest standard. In this industry, it is crucial to constantly forecast and be aware of any changes that may occur. Following newfound situations from the past year, such as various political challenges, COVID-19, the latest port congestion and the recent Shmita year, ZIM has managed to quickly adjust its strategy and successfully accommodate to the current reality by developing its services and upgrading equipment.
ZIM sees great importance in leading the shipping industry with the most updated information given to customers, and our methods have been followed by many in the market: “We directly notify our customers because we understand that carrying agricultural cargo with a shorter shelf life has much more at stake.” ZIM’s customer service openly shares all operational practices occurring locally and abroad, while constantly tracking anything that may affect the supply chain such as weather conditions or updates regarding port congestion.
Navigating Challenging Circumstances
COVID-19 took a toll on many carriers who were faced with operational limitations like closed borders, isolations and lack of employees, causing massive schedule delays. “For agricultural produce with short shelf life, implications like these are no less than dramatic in maintaining a balanced supply chain.” These circumstances forced many exporters to divert cargo to other, less-congested destinations, ultimately increasing supply chain costs. Moti explains how ZIM’s flexible service managed to successfully assist its customers: “We can’t bring employees out of isolation, but we can adjust the cargo route and decide which direction is best to take. For us, customers directed towards their destination will receive real-time updates of the entire journey and any changes in case of route diversions.”
Israel has been known to suffer from various boycotts, occasionally affecting its local economy as lower priced produce originating from Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, or Algeria have slowly entered Europe, replacing Israeli exports mainly on commodities such as peppers, potatoes, and carrots. ZIM was quick to respond, deciding that in addition to Russia and Europe, reaching other destinations like North America and Asia would open up new market opportunities.
The Fresh Solution - ZIMonitor
New markets like these bring on longer journeys and new local regulations. For ZIM, having a common refrigerated container wasn’t enough, which is what led the company to upgrade the reefer box itself: “As part of this upgrade, we were able to adjust our reefers by giving them “smart” atmospheric control within the container itself, ensuring that the fruit is kept fresh when it reaches the customers.”
This is especially useful when exporting products like avocados since unlike many other fruits, they are categorized as a “breathing” fruit, ripening much faster. ZIM was soon to deliver, introducing ZIMonitor controlled atmosphere containers – a perfect solution for avocados! “With these advanced containers, we are able to manage the air supply inside the container by putting the avocado “to sleep” for 12-15 days journey, until arriving fresh at its destination, like it was just harvested!”
As Israel’s reefer market continues to expand by the year, ZIM’s tradition of hard work and dedication to customers will constantly enhance as we always look for proactive approaches and innovative improvements. Moti proudly expresses that ZIM’s reefer department is unlike many others in the industry: “At ZIM, all steps of the operation fall under one roof, making for a customized, tailor-made solution dedicated to our customers.”