Greece hopes branding will tighten the gap with olive oil competitors

Greece has a good opportunity this season to boost its olive oil exports, now that the production of its big competitor, Spain, is reportedly «on its knees.» «We must take advantage of that, at least to acquaint ourselves with some markets,» say sector professionals. Olive oil may be the agricultural product with the highest value (some 1.9 billion euros), but its exports in standardized form and with a Greek seal are exceptionally small: They correspond to just 2.5 percent of domestic production. «Exports of standardized brand olive oil come to just 10-12,000 tons each year,» said Gregoris Antoniadis, the president of the Greek Association of Industries and Processors of Olive Oil (SEVITEL). What is needed, he added, is greater effort as well as capital to support and promote the product in markets abroad. «In the last decade, there has unfortunately been no interest in promoting olive oil. Today, however, there is the interest and the desire to support it,» he stressed. Concentrated effort A program for promoting Greek standardized olive oil in key international markets is about to start soon. These are markets with significant prospects for the product’s exports such as the USA, Canada and Australia, according to SEVITEL. The campaign’s aim is to highlight the advantages of Greek standardized olive oil and boost its demand in these markets. This will complement other programs by SEVITEL and the Hellenic Foreign Trade Board (OPE), specifically a three-year program to invest 11 million euros to promote Greek olive oil in EU markets and other countries, in association with the Finance and Agricultural Development ministries. «It is a step in the right direction to assist certain serious efforts so that well-known brands are placed on stores’ shelves,» sector professionals commented. They stress the need for an all-encompassing strategy as the product’s promotion is in essence a point of cooperation by many bodies as it can and should operate in combination with other traditional products under the umbrella of a specific national policy. They also believe that even prominent firms such as Elais or Minerva (which already export) are «too small» to introduce, let alone sustain, their standardized olive oil in foreign markets. Main markets are predominantly supplied by Italy and Spain, with Greece being lower in the list by far. In the US, for example, in the 2002-03 period Italy supplied 150,105 tons of olive oil, against 38,113 tons from Spain, 12,936 tons from Turkey and just 4,651 tons from Greece. Greek exports to Australia were 2,042 tons, with the Italians supplying 11,219 tons, while Italy sent 18,105 tons to Japan against just 282 tons from Greece. This picture becomes even more murky when considering that Italy was this country’s best client in 2002-03, absorbing about 95,000 tons of non-standardized olive oil. Against bulk Along with the efforts to promote Greek standardized olive oil abroad, a major campaign is under way in Greece, too. It aims at weakening bulk olive oil, which remains first in consumption and at protecting consumers from lower quality or adulterated olive oil in the market. Consumption of olive oil reaches 55,000 tons against 35,000 tons of standardized olive oil. Projections suggest bulk olive oil consumption will this year decline by 5.5 percent. The campaign intends to stress that very often the bulk olive oil that consumers consider pure is not well-preserved, so the characteristics that would provide it with special nutritional value are diluted. Speaking at a press conference this week Dimitrios Drakos, the prefect of Messinia, which is famous for its olive oil, called for particular caution in the labeling of the standardized product, too: Consumers, he said, must choose extra virgin olive oil, and not just olive oil or virgin olive oil, which mean that the product has undergone chemical refining, and its nutritional value will be inferior. Extra virgin olive oil is also recommended for frying as it is not diluted by high temperatures, as in the case of other sorts of oil. Olive oil event The objective, Drakos said, is the standardization and the protection of quality of Messenian olive oil. The local product has secured its Protected Designation of Origin, as have Kalamata olives, while an effort is being made to turn some of the olive groves into organic ones or use integrated crop management.To make people more aware of the olive oil production process, the Messinia prefectural authorities, along with the local farming cooperative association, are organizing a three-day event from Sunday, December 18 to Tuesday, December 20 in Filiatra, Hora and Meligalas.