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Trading the catwalk for the farm

Posted By Abigail Klein Leichman On November 16, 2010 @ 12:00 am In | No Comments

Avishai Trabelsi abandoned the catwalk for a career marketing his father’s designer fruits and vegetables.

Brought up on a farm, Avishai Trabelsi turned to modeling as a job, rather than a career.

Twenty-seven-year-old Israeli model Avishai Trabelsi has abandoned the fashion runway to concentrate his energies on exporting gourmet tomatoes from his father’s greenhouses.

You could say he traded beefcake for beefsteak – only the tomatoes he’s touting internationally aren’t the garden variety. Dubbed ‘Intense,’ these state-of-the art fruits keep their juices locked inside so they don’t make a mess when sliced.

Thanks to Trabelsi’s marketing of the brand, households throughout Europe will discover the Israeli way to keep sandwiches and salads from getting soggy, as they slice juicy tomatoes that don’t drip.

Five a.m. wake-up is not for him

Soon to receive his degree in business and accountancy, Trabelsi went into modeling to finance his education following four years of military service and another year of trekking through South America.

“When I came back to Israel, I was looking for something to do with my life, and my younger sister was starting school so I decided to go as well,” Trabelsi tells ISRAEL21c. Moving from his family’s farm, Moshav Tekuma in the western Negev desert, he found an apartment near college and followed up on modeling leads he’d rejected years earlier.

“I didn’t want to do it back then, but when I was older I saw it offered good money and good opportunities,” Trabelsi confides. His lean, high-fashion looks soon launched print and TV campaigns for Diet Coke and Israeli clothing store chains, and graced the runways of Milan fashion houses including Benetton.

But he saw modeling as a job, not a career. “It’s nice when people start recognizing you, and you get to go out with beautiful girls. But I never thought it would be something for life.”

The second of five children who grew up on a 247-acre farm, Trabelsi and his mother and siblings can’t help but share an affinity for the fields. A few years ago, his mom, Zahava, stopped teaching school to manage the office. Avishai occasionally helped his father, Rami, with his RT Fresh premium tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, radishes, carrots, celery, citrus, pineapple and pomegranates.

The new Intense dripless tomatoes now being exported from Israel.

Yet he did not think his family’s 30-year-old agriculture business would be his permanent direction. “I didn’t want to be a farmer, waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning. The work is your life. I knew it would be easy to come into the family company but I wanted to find something else.”

Passionate about the juicy fruit

However, when his father started to export produce through an agent two years ago, his interest piqued. “I started to think how to involve myself in the company then,” he says. “I liked marketing very much. And I knew that Israeli crops are very much in demand outside Israel.”

Now RT Fresh’s marketing director, Trabelsi researched markets in Europe and Russia and helped the company begin to export its goods directly. “I am focusing on developing new varieties with added value, like these Intense tomatoes,” he relates. They are already on sale in Israel under the label Admoniya, and the first shipment for export was sent on its way in early October.

Trabelsi overflows with enthusiasm about the new ‘non-drip’ tomatoes: “You can cut them however you want and the liquid will stay inside. You can put them in a sandwich and eat it a few days later and they will taste fresh and the bread will not be soggy. They’re also great for salads. Two days ago, I made a delicious pasta sauce with them.” They can even be held in your hand and munched on like apples, without any juice dribbling down your chin.

Intense tomatoes are raised from Dutch seeds, and while they originate in Israel, they start their European journey back in Holland, from where they will ship out to other markets. Some 500 tons are expected to be exported by the spring. The fruit will be packed six to a package, with a shelf life that’s 40 percent longer than that of regular tomatoes.

Modeling to marketing

Trabelsi says the tomatoes will be shipped out year-round, “… because to make a new brand viable it must be available all the time.” Some of the produce will be grown on subleased farms to boost production, since yields vary with weather conditions.

In his quest to identify additional products, the young marketing director is planning to scout out new seed varieties in Spain. And he is looking to market Intense tomatoes in Canada next year.

With no regrets about leaving modeling behind, he enjoys gaining an understanding of foreign business cultures, including different countries’ protocols for manners and dress. “I like to learn new things and meet new people.

“This is my future. To find more markets and make our company grow bigger,” he says. Unlike his dad, he doesn’t start his day at five in the morning, but at eight, working long hours in his passion for the business.

“My father always thought it would be like this, and now it’s truly happening,” he says with a smile.


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