Hummus is just one of the Israeli food staples which is successfully being exported around the world.Gone are the days when the pinnacle of Israeli food exports were the famous Jaffa Oranges. Today, agricultural products account for only 2.5 percent of Israeli exports and citrus is a mere 0.2 percent of the total.

But just because Israel has moved into high-tech and pharmaceuticals doesn’t mean it has abandoned the grocery store entirely. More and more Israeli food products are showing up on American and European shelves. Surprisingly, not only are they not confined to the kosher aisle, but they appear in some of the most and prestigious gourmet stores.

Tivol, Elite, Olivia, Gad Cheeses, Tzabar Salads and Recanati vineyards are all selling impressive quantities of their products overseas.

The bakery chain Lahami joined recently joined the list. The company recently announced that its products will soon be sold in hundreds of supermarkets and other points of sale in Europe, after signing an agreement with a central distribution company in Europe.

The agreements were signed after Lahami’s impressive display at a high-profile food show in France. Lahami began to export its products to Europe several few months ago and they are selling in upscale European stores, among them Selfridges in England and Gallery Lafayette in France.

And who took a first prize at another important food expo two weeks ago in Paris, beating 900 competitors? The company ‘Ethnic Delights’ which distributes the sauces produced by the Olivia company, owned by Tnuva took first place in the category of the best spreads and sauces in Europe. Olivia, has been participating in many several such competitions and this is the second time that it has won a prestigious prize.

Iris Fein, CEO of Olivia says that she is looking for markets in which Olivia has an added value. “Our marketing is not just for the kosher market but for the gourmet market. We are exporting mostly to the U.S., Japan and France.”

Olivia began its journey 12 years ago, when it was manufacturing products only for export. It was only in the mid-90s that the company’s founder, Yoel Banas, decided to enter the local market. Today, they are swinging back towards export, which presently accounts for 20 percent of sales. They hope to expand to 50 percent.

Tivol, which belongs to the Nestle-Osem group, is also successful overseas, due to its appeal to the health food sector. Today, Tivol, which makes meat substitute products such as vegetable and soy patties exports more than $30 million dollars worth of its product, largely in Western Europe

Most of the Israeli food products are sold via private brand labels overseas or other names that are not Israeli-identified. Iris Fein from Olivia: “We are not identified as Israeli, generally. In the French exhibition we were identified as part of the brand ‘Ethnic Delights.’ There is a problem with Israeli identification, partly because of politics. The consumer likes the quality of the product and doesn’t know it’s Israeli. Aside from the name, the Olivia products (olive spread, pepper, sauces for chicken and veggies) have a Mediterranean image and not necessarily an Israeli one.”

Gad Dairies, by contrast, doesn’t seem to mind flaunting its Israeli identity. The company has been exporting to the US, France, Italy and England for three years.

“Distributors approached us from the Jewish and kosher sectors, and afterwards we were also represented at food shows in Paris, so that today we are also in general food chains, in France and in the United States,” said a company spokesman.

Gad Dairis exports cheeses Ids with the Mediteranians, like Ricotta, Leben and Halumi. The exports have reached 150,000 dollars per month. According to the spokesman, the products taste the same and look the same as they do in Israel. They even keep Hebrew lettering on the packages along with the English.

Israel’s biggest dairy products company, Tnuva, is about to get into the act too. According to reports last week in the Hebrew press, the company is about to enter the US market, by acquiring 50% of a U.S. fresh foods importer. Tnuva’s US subsidiary will be based in New York and Los Angeles. They plan to focus on the US ethnic foods market in the first stage, stressing the kosher angle, but hopes to crack the mainstream market at some later point. Tnuva had $1.5b billion in revenue in Israel in 2002.

Israeli wine continues to sell well overseas and have won prizes. In Japan, France, the U.S. and Italy. Recanati reports sales of $2.2 million in the past five years. Also the veteran company Wissotsky tea is sold in the US, Russia and England.

Perhaps most surprisingly is Tsabar Salads, also belonging to Osem, which have managed to penetrate major chains in Western Europe, Belgium, England, and Holland and France, with that most Middle Eastern of spreads: Hummus. Apparently, the British like to put their hummus on crackers, the French prefer to spread it on a baguette and the Dutch to fold it into a sandwich. The year they are selling different flavors and varieties, and their sales have been a steady $3 million annually for the past 3 years.

And what’s for dessert? Chocolate of course. The Elite conglomerate is actively promoting the boutique Israeli chocolate company, Max Brenner, that they acquired a year ago. The founder and manager of the company, Oded Brenner, who still manages the company, notes that the chocolate was sold in the U.S., London and Australia even before Elite bought him out. Today, with Elite, the overseas market has been broadened and they are moving into Singapore and Australia. They are even contemplating a move onto the turf of the top chocolate-makers in the world: Belgium and Switzerland.

For those who like to eat out, successful Israeli restaurants are looking overseas as well. The kosher gourmet Bruno restaurant in Tel Aviv’s Azrieli Towers will soon open a sister branch in Manhattan. And Arcaffee, whose popularity contributed to the downfall of Starbucks in Israel, is also planning to move into the Big Apple as well.

(Based on a report in Ma’ariv)