By Ioanna Fotiadi
The nostalgia for olive groves and barrels of olive oil has taken on new meaning in crisis-hit Greece. Recently, there has been an exponential increase in interest for olive processing and olive oil marketing.
“People between the ages of 20 and 45 are looking for new career paths, and they often turn toward our national product: olive oil,” Yiannis Karvelas, an educator and organizer of olive oil seminars, told Kathimerini. “It’s a realistic choice since olive trees can be found across the country,” he added.
Efthimios Christakis, who exports Greek olive oil to German-speaking countries told Kathimerini: “Every day I receive invitations from at least 10 olive oil manufacturers, all of whom are interested in exporting their oil.
“Poor crops in Spain this year, which saw a one-third drop in the harvest, proved favorable for Greece, which increased its penetration into the market by approximately 10 percent.”
“It’s encouraging that budding olive oil producers are looking to get relevant training and knowledge on this issue,” said Karvelas.
In fact, a few days ago, a number of manufacturers convened at a nationwide conference on exporting olive oil. Some attendees even went a step further.
“We have Greek manufacturers who take part in international olive oil competitions, and this type of publicity is necessary for Greece,” Karvelas noted.
Greek manufacturers are participating in renowned international competitions like the Mario Solinas, TerraOlivo in Israel, Olive Japan and the New York International Olive Oil Competition.
“Plenty of Greeks have ventured into the international market and are exporting Greek olive oil even to Latin America,” Karvelas added.
Manufacturers Kostas Balafas and George Dimarakis have earned six top honors for their extra-virgin olive oil, Moria Elea Deluxe, which comprises the Manaki and Koroneiki olive varieties. It was named the premier product in New York’s 2013 competition and was awarded the Grand Prestige Gold Award in Israel.
But their success had nothing to do with luck. Balafas and Dimarakis trained for two years, learning everything they could about the product and its production.
“We enrolled in olive production seminars at the Syngrou Estate, worked together with professors from the agricultural university, spoke with chefs and foodies, and we traveled a lot,” Balafas told Kathimerini.
“Olive oil should be introduced to the Asian diet, from which it is absent. It should also establish itself as a gourmet product, and not just an ingredient.”
Balafas also deems it necessary to dispel certain myths.
“An expensive product does not mean large profits,” he explained, adding that consumers should “look not just at the product’s final cost, but also its production costs and the quantities that are ultimately sold.” Today, Balafas’s company exports 80 percent of its product to 12 countries.
However, there are problems with the Greek olive oil market. The sale of Greek olive oil to Italy, which exports double the amount it produces, is still common practice.
“It is estimated that 20 to 30 percent of the so-called Italian olive oil on German shelves is actually Greek,” said Christakis.
At the same time, there is also large-scale disagreement among manufacturers regarding the technical means through which the oil is produced.
“Amid all the panic caused by the crisis, everyone is trying to perfect their packaging without trying to improve the quality of their product,” said Christakis, noting that the Italians used the same tactic, but have now abandoned it.
Greek olive oil is also facing a identity crisis.
“We need to explain to foreign consumers why it’s worth choosing Greek olive oil, rather than Italian or Spanish. We need to make it clear why we are different.”