Giorgos runs the coffee shop on the main square but his greatest passion is Greek olive oil, especially that from Laconia in the southeastern Peloponnese – he takes any perceived slight against the local product very personally. Fatouros is a Kalamata native who takes pride in the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) distinction bestowed on the virgin olive oil produced in the southwestern Peloponnese. Manolios, meanwhile, like every Cretan producer, believes his olive oil is the best in the world – and definitely better than that made by the guy next door. The three of them, along with their families, neighbors and village priests, have gone head-to-head in a new reality show to determine who produces the best Greek olive oil.
They are also fictional characters – but certainly inspired by real people – in Olive Oil Battles, an initiative aimed at showcasing the fascinating world of Greek olive oil. It is the brainchild of entertainment platform Foodz.gr, established by Food Standard SA in cooperation with several major organizations in the agricultural sector. The aim was to create a multifaceted platform where food producers can meet and promote Greek products, both in Greece and abroad, and a communication hub between representatives of the agricultural production chain and consumers. The producers took on the creation of their own campaign platform with which to promote the products they produce.
The initiative started with olive oil, with other sectors gradually following suit. The first step was the creation of a series of humorous videos starring olive oil producers from around the country (performed by well-known Greek actors), which demonstrate the characteristics of each place and the love its producers put into their products, while poking good-hearted fun at their rivalries.
The story line is that the competition was sparked by British journalist who wrote a report that was critical of everything Greek – which only made Giorgos, Fatouros and Manolios all the more determined to prove him wrong. (You can watch the videos in Greek at foodz.gr/olive-oil-battles.)
Although the olive oil industry is one of the strongest sectors of the Greek economy (and one of the few that has not contracted significantly during the financial crisis), a lot about it remains unknown even to local consumers, who tend to only appreciate the olive oil from their village as good. The industry, moreover, provides jobs for over 450,000 families, mainly in poorer rural parts, with over 157 million olive trees around the country.
Greece is the third largest producer of olive oil internationally (with 355 million tons), after Spain and Italy, with Crete and the Peloponnese accounting for 75 percent of total output.
Greek olive oil is renowned for its superior quality, with 75-80 percent of output considered extra virgin olive oil, compared to only 50 percent of Italy’s output and 35 percent of Spain’s.