JERUSALEM (Dec. 7)
Americans living in Israel have been in ecstasy this past month, ever since the country’s largest supermarket chain launched its America Food Festival.
Held in all 72 branches of the Supersol/Hypercol chain, the month-long festival has attracted droves of customers in search of Drake’s Yankee Doodles, Jiffy Peanut Butter and Post Grape Nuts Cereal.
This year’s biennial event, which began Nov. 10, features several hundred American-made products and “has been a big success,” said Mordechai Kreiner, the supermarkets’ vice president for marketing.
“This is our fourth such festival in eight years, and we’ve learned through trial and error which American products Israeli consumers prefer.”
While the festival appeals first and foremost to Americans, said Kreiner, “there are also many Israelis who have lived in North America for some period of time and who became fond of American products.”
Word of mouth and glossy ads in the Hebrew newspapers have also attracted a fair number of native-born customers. “Israelis who have heard of certain American products from their friends are eager to try something new,” Kreiner said.
“Then there are several items, such as Kellogg’s cereals and Miller’s cheeses, that gained a local following from past festivals, and are now sought after by everyone.”
In addition to wooing new customers, the festival has a larger function, said Leon Recanati, chairman of the Supersol stores.
“We are introducing American foods to the Israeli public and creating a potential market for U.S. producers. Israel,” he said, “is a natural market for U.S. food producers who are aware of kashrut laws.
“Since Supersol imports only kosher food, it is much easier to work with the U.S. in this regard than, say, with the European Community. In our small way, we are doing our part in fostering American-Israeli trade relations in implementing the U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement.”
Often, said Kreiner, Israel’s liberal free-trade agreement with the United States has allowed Israeli products to enter the American market, but not vice- versa.
“Many of the items in the festival, such as Empire poultry, are one-shot deals, because there are laws protecting local producers. Until these (protectionist) laws are rescinded, consumers will have to make do with mostly local fare,” he said.
In some instances, the festival has inspired local manufacturers to produce a foreign product here in Israel. “Sometimes a local producer not only makes an item for sale here after seeing it at a festival, but subsequently succeeds in exporting it to the U.S. That’s what happened with chocolate chips. Now we’re exporting them abroad,” said Kreiner.
Thanks to increased cooperation between the American and Israeli food industries, many American items are now standards in Israeli supermarkets. Heinz Ketchup has become a staple, as have Pepsi-Cola and Pfeiffer salad dressings.
If this year’s customers have their way, Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream will become a regular item in Israeli supermarkets. The entire nine-flavor assortment was sold out throughout the country in less than a week.
“We bought four containers,” said Jody Zaviv, a native of Encino, California. “We also made a point of buying lots of Philadelphia-brand Cream Cheese. We didn’t spend as much money as we have in past festivals because the prices were high,” she added.
Cost didn’t stop the Loshinkys, who originally hail from New York. “I think we must have spent about $700 on American products,” said Shlomo, a caterer.
“In order to find Haagen-Dazs we even went to a supermarket in Kiryat Hayovel, a neighborhood with very few Americans. There weren’t any more containers, so other people must have had the same idea.”
Ice cream wasn’t the only thing on their minds, though. “We bought 15 boxes of Ring Dings, an Empire frozen turkey for Thanksgiving, and lots of cream soda, root beer and sliced American cheese.
“We’ve been anticipating this festival for months,” he said with a grin. “I told my wife Shahar three months ago, the festival is coming, start cleaning out the freezer!”