January 5, 2009

Exclusive: IsraelÕs Food Industry Struggles to Maintain Food Production

Sderot, Israel…The recent events in the Gaza Strip have made it a daily challenge for many food manufacturing plants to maintain full scale production. Many employees of such major food plants as Osem, Elite, and Sogolowek have opted to stay home with their families in the wake of the daily barrage of rockets unleashed by Hamas in the past weeks. Employees have at times rushed home following a siren and in most cases did not return to work, effecting production at some of the plants. Other workers have left their jobs to join reserve units called up in advance of Israel’s ground operation in Gaza. Sderot has been fertile ground for many large food manufacturers because of its good labor pool and favorable incentives offered by successive Israeli governments.

For Osem, owned by Nestle, the Sderot plant is its southern-most manufacturing point in Israel. This plant, which in the early 1980s produced pasta, has developed into a highly advanced production plant with a wide and varied range of activities. A U.S. food industry delegation that was headed by Yakov Yarmove of SuperValu, visited the plant in November. Amongst the many snack products produced here is the well-known Bissli production line. The group was enormously impressed with the advanced technology and sheer size of the plant.

In Sderot, most of the 600 businesses have been shuttered with the food plants being amongst the only plants to function. But the effects of the recent Hamas bombardments has had an impact on food production in Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beer Sheva and even in places like Yavneh, all of which have been targeted by the longer range Grads in the hands of the Hamas terrorists. Twenty-five percent of Beer Sheva’s businesses have been closed though all food plants remained open. KosherToday has learned that the manufacturers are also trying to meet export deadlines as well as domestic needs. One source said,“We desperately need a solution to the rocket fire since we have had so much interruptions in the past eight years.”