Promoting Peace Through Business

This movie tells the Moshe and Ali story, and how Pesto and Tapenades was born.

Making Peace By Making Pasta Sauces

By Jessica Steinberg; From The Jerusalem Post
January 2, 1998

(October 8) - PeaceWorks uses Palestinian produce, Israeli facilities and American marketing skills to turn a profit. It all began with a legend.

Moshe Pupik and Ali Mishmunken, the respective chef and magician of two warring armies, decided to solve their nation's problems and cooked up a sun-dried tomato spread whose powerful and delicious aroma swept across the horizon, putting the soldiers into a trance and melting their guns into spoons.

Wishful thinking, says Daniel Lubetzky, a 29-year-old entrepreneur and storyteller from Mexico City who is attempting to spread peace with a line of condiments made from ingredients grown by Palestinians and manufactured by Israelis.

The spreads, called "sprates" (pronounced "spra-tays") - a combination of spread and pate - are the pioneer products of PeaceWorks Inc., Lubetzky's company which aims to end bitter feuds around the world by providing marketing and distribution guidance for cooperative business ventures. The concept, he says, is that if warring neighbors, such as Arabs and Israelis, work together, it ties their futures together, shatters stereotypes and creates a healthier economy.

Lubetzky, the son of a Holocaust survivor, grew up in Mexico City and San Antonio, Texas, where he attended Trinity College for his undergraduate degree. In 1993, having just graduated from Stanford University Law School, he came to Israel to research a law-review article on conflict resolution through cooperative enterprise.

One winter night, Lubetzky took a break from his research to go grocery shopping at a local Tel Aviv supermarket where he picked up a jar of a sun-dried tomato spread. He fell in love with the condiment's tangy taste and ate it on everything from pasta and potatoes to bread and crackers. After going through the store's stock of four jars, he tracked down the manufacturer, who was about to go out of business.

Interestingly enough, the manufacturer's distributor had an Arab partner. That got Lubetzky thinking. He proposed manufacturing the spread using Palestinian-grown products and Israeli facilities. At the time, Israel had banned Palestinian workers from agricultural and food-related jobs but the Palestinian growers were able to supply tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil to the Israeli manufacturer for the multi-purpose spread. And in March 1994, with $10,000 of his own funds and a little help from his parents, Lubetzky developed his first sprates in two flavors, olive and sun-dried tomato.

The legend of the spreads came to Lubetzky one night while he was sleeping. He had already decided that PeaceWorks was "too corny" a name for a sun-dried tomato spread. "A product sells because of quality, not because of a concept or a mission," he explains. "You're not making peace by buying a product."

He dreamed up two lovable cartoon characters: a mustachioed Jewish chef named Moshe Pupik and an Aladdin-like Arab magician by the name of Ali Mishmunken, who would be featured on the labels, sending the message that Arabs and Jews can be friends.

Armed with jars of sun-dried tomato sprate bearing the caricatured features of Moshe and Ali, Lubetzky knocked on the doors of New York's food markets, groceries and gourmet stores.

"My parents thought I was crazy," Lubetzky recalls. "'What's our lawyer son with a degree from Stanford doing peddling tomatoes in New York?'" But the advice he received from the locals was invaluable, Lubetzky says, noting that buyers recognize a quality product when they see one.

The sprates are made with all fresh ingredients, cooked and sealed the day the produce arrives from the Palestinian growers. Lubetzky says his versatile non-meat products - kosher, hallal and dairy-free - are relatively inexpensive. The suggested retail price for a 6.7-ounce jar of basil pesto is $4.99, while similar products usually run $5 to $6 for a smaller jar.

According to Lubetzky, PeaceWorks can afford to charge less because of Israel's free trade agreement with the US and the company's role as an agent handling the product's marketing and distribution.

The sprates have expanded to 30 flavors, and are sold by 45 distributors in more than 2,600 stores worldwide, including most Israeli supermarkets.

Revenues exceed several million dollars annually, says Lubetzky, and PeaceWorks donates at least five percent of its profits to charity.

"We're a company with a soul," he says of the 12-person staff located in New York. "We're armed with our energy and a large segment of our buyers cherish the opportunity to do some good."

The company is also helped by a high-profile board of volunteer advisers that includes Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream; Rozanne Gold, the consulting chef at New York's Rainbow Room and Windows on the World restaurants; Leonard Hausman, the director of the Institute for Social and Economic Policy in the Middle East at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government; Ziad Abdelnour, a founding partner of Interbank/ Birchall Private Capital, a New York investment bank; and Roman Lubetzky, Daniel's father and a successful businessman.

Now that Moshe and Ali's sprates are well established, Lubetzky is looking to duplicate the product's success with similar ventures in the Palestinian Authority, as well as in South Africa, Croatia and Mexico.

But it's not always an easy prospect finding companies that meet PeaceWorks' twofold goal. Those interested must have a profitable business venture with a high-quality product, and be committed to cooperation and peace.

"It's hard to find," sighs Lubetzky. Ninety-nine percent have one but not the other, he says, but he's not giving up. "PeaceWorks at its best will find companies that embody our dedication to promoting cooperation and coexistence."