Olive oil produced in the Mediterranean basin is celebrated throughout the world. Israelis also have their place on the list of countries whose oil is most sought after.
But when an Israeli non-profit wins an award of excellence in a prestigious competition in Spain, the matter is of special interest, especially when the winner is Sindyanna of Galilee. It is doubtful any other olive oil producer on the list has such an extraordinary story.
Sindyanna’s Extra Peaceful Olive Oil Brand received the Silver Medal for Best Design in Retail at the prestigious EVOOLEUM competition in Spain (one of the five most important in the world). Last April Sindyanna’s oil was chosen as one of the world's top 100 in the same competition.
A social enterprise for the employment of womenSoon Sindyanna will ‘star’ in the United States. At the initiative of the Israel Export Institute, and the Ministry of Economy's commercial attaché in New York, American food chain FAIRWAY will be hosting an Israel Festival in September. Select food products from 20 Israeli companies will be on sale, attesting to the advantages of Israeli products – ethnic, health-conscious, innovative, traditional and local advantages. Their adjustment to conditions abroad goes to show that Israeli products can be marketed worldwide, despite the competition and the fact that the price is sometimes higher.
Sindyanna's oil will be prominent among Israeli companies and products displayed at the Israel Festival.
“Sindyanna of Galilee represents the Israeli food industry at its finest,” says Orly Malinboim, Director of the Food and Beverage Industry at the Export Institute.
"Our role," notes Malinboim, "is to help market Israeli companies to buyers and distributors, and the Israel Festival at Fairway is a great way to reach the broadest audience in the US. Olive oil is one of the fastest growing categories in the industry, and together with the beautiful story behind Sindyanna of Galilee, there is great potential for sales in the US."
Creating employment for Arab women
Sindyanna of Galilee was established in 1996 in Majd al-Krum, near Karmiel, to promote economic and employment opportunities for Arab women. This non-profit organization commits to the values of peace, equality, and well-being. Its founders came from diverse social backgrounds and activities, some with experience in agronomy, and they joined forces with olive oil producing farmers in the north. The staff of the organization - from production to management - consists of Arab and Jewish women who believe in a common destiny for both peoples, equal opportunity for women and the advancement of Arab women.
"There is a big difference between Jewish and Arab olive oil production," says Hadas Lahav, Sindyanna's CEO. “Among Arabs, crops are grown without irrigation, whereas Jews utilize sophisticated agricultural infrastructure and irrigation."
"Our first task was to raise the awareness of Arab farmers regarding various types of olive oil. In the past, Arab olive oil did not reach outside markets at all – it was solely for local consumption. Israel imported olive oil from Spain and Italy. Only later, when the Israeli market opened to local oil, did the industry grow. To this day, we are still struggling to push olive oil to more and more markets. We want to turn it into a tradable commodity."
“When we started," Lahav continues, "17 percent of Arab women were in the labor market, and today the number is 34 percent. Arab women wish to work, but they face barriers in opportunities and awareness, and it is within that sphere that we operate."
At first, Sindyanna bought olive oil from Arab farmers and marketed it to the Jewish sector. "We sold the oil to Tel Aviv restaurants, but in the year 2000, the economic crisis and the intifada hurt sales of Arab products. We realized that if we did not find new markets outside Israel, we would cease to grow. In 2003, we joined the World Fair Trade Organization. We were the first Israeli producer in it. We are still there, and every year we are held to a very strict standard. We are now exporting to Australia, Japan, England, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Canada, the USA, Poland, and Sweden, Nigeria, South Korea and others.”
Sindyanna of Galilee has a factory for packaging olive oil in Kafr Kanna. Over the years, products such as hyssop and soaps have also been added to meet customer demand. The team and the factory uphold a meticulous business standard.
"Our motivation is social, and therein lies our uniqueness," says Lahav. "Social relations are uppermost in our dealings with our suppliers: who they are, the nature of our interactions with them, their business values, and the quality of the employees. Management wages are not far from those of the employees, allowing us to hire top personnel and maintain the standards and values of the association."
In the floor above the factory, a Visitors Center has been established. "This is the display window through which our vision is shared," says Lahav. "It's an extraordinary experiment, and many groups from all local sectors and all over the world come visit us. We include training and workshops in basket-weaving and in preparing hyssop (za'atar), a local spice."
There are numerous attempts to integrate Arab women into the labor market, but here in Sindyanna they work closely with Jewish women. "The fears were great, on both sides, but in practice, we've developed very tight friendships. We remain optimistic while living in a hostile, intolerant environment. We are also a magnet drawing people to Kafr Kanna, and that is a real achievement,” says Lahav.
Defining potential marketsIn Israel, there is no special law for social enterprises. Therefore, one like Sindyanna, with a turnover of more than $1 million a year, must register as a non-profit association. Until 2013, the association worked in the "incubator" of the World Fair Trade Organization, which operates in poorer countries to promote fair trade. At a certain stage, after the Visitors Center was established for the Israeli market, the feeling was that the organization had exhausted the commercial potential of the fair trade niche.
"It was important to us," says Lahav, "that our olive oil, while sticking to the principles of fair trade, should reach open markets and compete in all existing markets in the world of olive oil. We decided on a significant economic change, but we did not have tools for the regular market. Here is where Israel's Export Institute entered the picture. We participated in an international exhibition in Germany at the Israeli pavilion organized by the Export Institute and the Manager of Foreign Trade. With the Institute’s help, we rebranded, built a website and evolved into a commercial company in a competitive market. We joined 'Tevel' (a program to advance business in the Arab sector), although today we are no longer there but rather among the regular exporters. We were also accepted into the 'Smart Money' program of the Ministry of Economy.”
According to Lahav, the Ministry of Economy did some thinking outside the box. “Because we are a non-profit and cannot accept money as a business, the Ministry of Economy made an exception and approved us for the program,” she says. Sindyanna is the first non-profit to be admitted to the Smart Money program.
In the last two years, the organization has made an effort to enter the US market, and today its products are sold at Whole Foods and on Amazon. And, as previously mentioned, Sindyanna has recently been invited to take part in the Fairway Market campaign.
The importance of competitionSince 2011, Sindyanna has been participating in a variety of competitions in Israel and abroad, winning numerous medals and titles. Speaking about the recent awards at EVOOLEUM in Spain, Lahav said: "This win puts us in a much esteemed catalog that is being distributed around the world, and Fairway Market will receive the olive oil that won the competition in 1,000 numbered bottles. It is important to note that Israeli oil is relatively expensive. We assume our presence in Israel and abroad will be strengthened. We have not been in the Israeli market for many years and now we are making new efforts. We have a superior product with a very special story, and the more exposure Sindyanna receives, the better our work will be. The connection between Jews and Arabs is synergistic and will benefit everyone."
Orly Malinboim, director of the Food and Beverage Department at the Export Institute, adds that the Institute helps exporters in a variety of ways and improves their exposure to additional markets.
"I think Sindyanna is doing amazing and exemplary work for producers of its size. Small companies need to know about the assistance that the Institute provides - access to a variety of professional services and help at startup with each food product, including accompaniment, business information and development, regardless of the sector or geographical area from which the company originates,” she says.
According to Malinboim, the Food and Beverage Department helps companies with regulations and provides assistance with economic attachés and trade areas around the world.
"We are a professional address for companies of all sizes that are interested in exporting. We assist those seeking to trade in the global marketplace. Many of the products included in the private name-brands of food chains throughout the world are Israeli, and there is always room for more," she says.
"Sindyanna is supported by the Ministry of Economy's 'Smart Money' assistance program," says Inon Elroy, head of the Ministry's delegation in New York.
"In this framework, the company receives close counseling. This includes careful attention and follow-up by a worker from the delegation who connects them to a variety of people, including direct distributors working with large food chains. We were delighted to learn about the prestigious awards, which are a tribute to Sindyanna's uniqueness and the quality of their product. We trust that this will help the company expand its business to new venues. We'll continue to be at their service."
Translated from the Hebrew by Robert Goldman