Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin empire is testing the water with a new kind of hi-tech kettle — using technology imported from Israel.
But the Virgin boss warned that UK companies could become more wary of investing in the country if its government did not show a willingness to address their political concerns.
The millionaire entrepreneur visited scientists and technology start-ups in Israel a few months ago, but it was a cup of cold water, offered to him by Strauss Group chairman Ofra Strauss that caught his imagination.
This week Sir Richard launched with Strauss Water,Virgin Pure, a £300 water-purifying machine that he hopes will rival the Hoover to be the gadget that changed the home: “Ofra showed me the machine in Israel and I wanted to buy one for our family. I realised how few homes had one of these.”
Sir Richard said: “People have been wary of investing in Israel, and people are getting more wary. The government has got to make a bigger effort to understand why people are worried about their policies and look for compromise. Business has a great role, the key role is giving people dignity. And government has to help give that to people as well. If it doesn’t, it will become more and more difficult.”
Ms Strauss said international companies investing in Israel could help create change. “They should be in Israel, and expressing their concerns. Being there and being active is what can create a difference. In Israel and Palestine people are worried about jobs. Businesses can make a real difference to that.
"International companies are starting to invest in both sides. It’s so critical in our region for all of us to play our part.”
The Virgin Pure machine filters, chills and boils water from the mains, and is already present in 20 per cent of Israeli homes.
Family business Strauss, a food and beverage empire which began 75 years ago as a dairy farm, developed the technology inside the machine. The family nature of the Strauss business appealed to Sir Richard.
“Their family started with two cows, and we started in a phonebox at school. We’ve had similar challenges. We are both one of the most respected brands in our countries. We will tap into each other’s strengths, Strauss’s technology strengths and Virgin’s UK consumer strengths.”
Israeli innovation across the country impressed the Virgin owner. Strauss has already made strategic partnerships with Pepsi, Danone and Frito-Lay snacks.