Thanks to widespread promotion of its health benefits, millions of people around the world have taken up the so-called Mediterranean diet, based around fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, herbs, honey and olive oil. But many of those healthy eaters know little, if anything, about the traditions associated with those foods in the places where the diet originated or the myriad tasty ways of preparing them that have been passed down through the generations. Now they can find out: Through Greek cuisine, traditional products and recipes, US cooking show “The Cooking Odyssey,” broadcasted on PBS and Create TV, introduces American viewers to the secrets of Mediterranean nutrition, from production to retail.
“The Cooking Odyssey” is sponsored by several Greek companies directly or indirectly linked to the gastronomy sector. Among them is online delicatessen Yoleni’s, which sells more than 2,000 traditional products from some 180 producers across Greece.
According to the company’s communications manager, Yiannis Georgiadis, Yoleni’s owes its unique character to the “complete and precise description of products.” Honey, extra-virgin olive oil and truffles are among the most popular products as far as American shoppers are concerned, something which is also reflected in sales.
“The principal difficulty was persuading consumers of the value of Greek products. While there is fierce competition, especially with Italy and Spain, our continuous efforts through marketing are bearing fruit,” noted Georgiadis. “We ventured beyond traditional sales channels and developed creative synergies with other startups in complementing sectors and thus managed to enter international markets.”
While for many years Greece trailed its competitors in terms of the promotion and standardization of these types of products, nowadays, through initiatives such as the US culinary show, local companies are beginning to catch up. The great demand for Greek products is reflected in sales of gift baskets. “In 2015 we succeeded in shipping more than 5,000 gift baskets to 47 countries around the globe,” said Georgiadis.
Many opt to give baskets containing 500 ml of Cretan olive oil, garlic pate, traditional trachanas pasta and squid ink noodles, among other products, to friends, clients and employees. The online delicatessen venture received a Hellenic Entrepreneurship Award last year.
According to data released by the United States International Trade Commission, Greece has been a steady supplier of products such as olives, olive oil, sea bass and bream to the US market since 2009. The United States is also Greece’s leading export destination for olives – especially of the Kalamon variety – with the market share reaching up to 73.2 percent in some cases and turnover of around 100 million dollars. The country’s principal competitors in this particular product category are Turkey, Italy and Spain. As far as well-informed American consumers are concerned, Greek feta cheese is of the best quality. It’s also the most expensive, given that it comes with an import duty of 9.6 percent of the price per kilo.
In the cheese category, which includes feta, Greece is the USA’s third largest supplier, after Spain and France, but Greek exports are in decline.