ECONOMY

Greek-label olive oil

With an annual production of 400,000 tons, Greece is the world’s third-largest producer of olive oil. But consumers never realize this, given the country’s habit of selling the bulk of its exports to Italian retailers, who treat and package the product under their own labels. Of 100,000 tons currently exported from Greece, only 6 percent are sold under Greek brands, according to the Finance Ministry. But with the promise of a demand surge in the Far East and the US now beckoning, Greek producers say they will no longer tolerate the dominance of foreign brands that essentially contain a Greek product. «Our strategy is to obtain a durable position in high-potential markets where we already have a small presence, such as the US, Australia and Japan,» said Gregory Antoniadis, chairman of the union of Greek olive oil producers (Sevitel). The Greek olive oil sector currently spends about 10 million euros a year on marketing, Antoniadis told AFP. The Greek state has contributed a further 5 million euros this year under an initiative decreeing 2006 as the «Year of the Olive and Olive Oil.» Part of the program involves staff at Athens International Airport handing out free bottles of olive oil to departing tourists. With recent studies showing a possible link between olive oil consumption and reduced coronary heart disease, Greek producers are seeking to capitalize, hoping that their traditional methods will help them reach organic and gourmet store markets. But the very nature of the Greek industry, which is broken up among small and medium-scale operators whose olives are handpicked and pressed in cooperatives, has also complicated efforts for a concerted marketing drive, says Christina Sotiropoulou, a market specialist at the Hellenic Foreign Trade Board (HEPO). «We would be very interested in bottling and selling our olive oil ourselves, but Greece is a small economy, and one needs financial muscle to compete with foreign companies on their own turf,» she noted. Twenty-five Greek olive oil brands are registered under the EUs Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status, nine of them from the island of Crete. But quality alone is not sufficient to crack a foreign market, says George Papakirikos, an olive oil operator exporting the PDO-registered Sitia brand to France. «When I began to market this oil 10 years ago, it had never left the island of Crete, and came in a container that looked like a perfume vial, labeled in Greek,» he said. «I rapidly realized that demand would not be high.» Nowadays, the product is packaged in an Italian-style bottle and a French label, and sales are brisk, he added. Just as his personal business has taken off in recent years, so are Greek operators rapidly learning the sectors marketing methods, Papakirikos says. (AFP)