Standardized olive oil gains popularity among Greeks

Brand or bulk olive oil? That dilemma faces anyone who wants to eat more healthfully but is not sure which is better – the 15-liter tin of oil direct from our second cousin’s olive groves or a supermarket brand? And which brand? And is it worth spending a bit more? In a country where many people either have their own olive trees or else obtain bulk oil from relatives (35 percent of all bulk oil), friends (35 percent) or direct from the producer in bulk (25 percent), standardized olive oil represents just 25 percent (about 35,000 tons) of the total market according to the Association of Greek Processors of Standardized Olive Oil (SEVITEL), which recently released results of a comparative survey. (About 39 percent is sold bulk and 36 percent consumed by the producers.) Choice has been made easier in theory with more information on standardized oil being available to consumers since the European Union’s introduction of the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) systems for food products (in 1992), which is apparently convincing a growing number of farmers and consumers alike to switch to standardized products. The PDO and PGI indicators are defined in European Union Law to protect regional foods and ensure that only products genuinely originating in that region are allowed to be sold as such. Protected designation This makes it easier for consumers to identify olive oil products from a particular area and a particular year and the method in which the products have been processed. The PDO symbol guarantees that the extra-virgin olive oil was produced from olives of a specific variety cultivated in an environmentally friendly manner in a specific area, that it was cold-pressed (at a temperature no higher than 27C), and that the quantities of each harvest are strictly determined and stored separately. The quality is due to the variety of the olive and the uniqueness of the microclimate and soil where they are grown. Every purchase of PDO oil from standardized bottlers is recorded and a certificate of quantity and batch is issued. Certified products bear the stamp of the European Union. Finally, the manufacturer is required to standardize and distribute the product in numbered bottles; the numbers are recorded on each sales certificate. On the bottle’s label, the number is preceded by two letters indicating the region of origin, such as KA for Kalamata, or SI for Siteia, Crete. After the number are two digits representing the harvest, such as 05 for the December 2004-December 2005 harvest. PGI refers to the name of a product that has either been produced or processed within a specific geographical area. Any product that does not bear these indications cannot be guaranteed. High customer ratings According to SEVITEL, the trend of standardized products has been particularly noticeable since 2000, with respondents of surveys giving higher scores to standardized olive oil on ratings such as richness of flavor, suitability for food, purity, price, color and guarantee of quality. Olive oil is Greece’s most valuable farm product, with 115 million trees covering 10 percent of the country and involving 350,000 farmers. According to SEVITEL, switching from the bulk to standardized product represents a potential market value increase of 250 million euros.