Speakers sitting at long tables at the conference in Tunisia

The Tunisian National Office for Olive Oil organized a conference in Hammamet, Tunisia on July 13, alongside the International Olive Council’s (IOC) extraordinary session. At the conference, the representatives of associations from olive oil producing countries presented their views on the olive oil sector’s opportunities, challenges, and threats. 

Greece was represented at the conference by Panayotis Karantonis, a member of the IOC advisory committee and director of ESVITE, the Hellenic Association of Industries & Packers of Olive Oil, and by Emmanouil Karpadakis, Exports Department / Marketing Manager of the Greek olive oil company Terra Creta. Visitors from Portugal, Tunisia, Spain, Italy, and Turkey were also invited to speak at the conference, which was attended by representatives from most olive oil producing countries.

According to Panayotis Karantonis, participants at this “Perspectives on the Global Olive Industry” conference focused mainly on five major issues facing the olive oil sector worldwide.

1) There should be a single trade standard for olive oil throughout the world.

This means there needs to be greater agreement on the following:

  • the quality index for olive oil (levels of acidity, peroxide, etc.)
  • the methods for determining the appropriate level of the index for each grade of olive oil
  • the names and definitions of each grade of olive oil (extra virgin, virgin, etc.)

Currently, there is a discrepancy between the North American and Australian definitions and index, on the one hand, and the standards used by the IOC member countries, on the other.

2) There is a debate over whether the organoleptic panel test (focused on aroma and flavor) is adequately objective as it is now implemented.

Business representatives from Spain, as well as some other countries, argue that this test is not objective enough in its current form, and that the method and limits should be reconsidered. On the other hand, many olive farmers and others from Italy, Greece, and elsewhere value the test and consider it accurate. The IOC has undertaken the task of developing recommendations about ways to improve the panel test. They expect to report on this in early September.

3) Another concern is the traceability of olive oil.

The ISO traceability standard already exists, requiring companies with ISO certification to prove traceability and apply a traceability system that leads back to the mill where olive oil was produced. Although there is some concern about the difficulty of improving traceability, many tradespeople and olive oil associations favor improved methods in order to protect the authenticity of olive oil.

4) Trade associations are looking for ways to ensure the smooth functioning and development of the olive oil market worldwide.

They are seeking a way to control supply and demand to avoid major fluctuations in years with low olive oil production and high prices vs. years with high production and low prices. This will be discussed in the coming months in Brussels and elsewhere, based on suggestions from the European Commission and various olive oil producing countries.

5) Many fear that climate change may present a danger to the olive oil sector.

Tunisians have suggested creating a worldwide fund to finance ways of dealing with the problem of climate change. Depending on the way things develop in the future, some believe olive oil cultivation could eventually disappear from Mediterranean countries and move to Northern Europe as temperatures increase and water levels decrease.

Regarding Greece   

Karantonis and Karpadakis presented an overview of the current situation of the Greek olive oil sector--its weaknesses and strengths, opportunities and future prospects. Karpadakis reports that the Greek presentation received a number of “positive comments” because it included information about “many aspects of the current status of Greek olive oil (practices to move to higher quality products with a more environmentally friendly approach, [attention to] ancient olive trees, etc.)” that participants had not previously known.    

Karantonis asserts that Greece’s big advantage in the olive oil world is the high quality of its olive oil. He adds, “we have to protect it, to improve it, make it known worldwide.” Karantonis claims the country’s disadvantage is the relatively high olive oil production cost here, which should be reduced. He suggests that increasing the average size of Greek olive groves could help; they tend to be very small, and often scattered.

Greece’s domestic olive oil market has long been weakened by widespread informal circulation of uncontrolled olive oil in place of branded, controlled products. However, Karantonis argues that what is most important for the Greek market is branded exports. Now, approximately 30,000 metric tons of bottled, branded Greek olive oil are exported each year (as opposed to being sold in bulk, especially to Italy, where it is blended with other oils and bottled and branded for re-export).

Karantonis insists that bottled, branded Greek olive oil exports should increase to 50,000 metric tons in the next 5 years and 100,000 in the next 10 years, “if we want a safe future for the product,” Greek olive oil. Rather than depending on bulk exports to Italy, which bring lower prices to Greek producers and no visibility to Greek products, “we need to increase considerably our branded exports. This is the biggest challenge for Greek olive oil in the years to come. The only way to achieve this is through promotional campaigns” that introduce more consumers to Greek products.

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Thanks to Emmanouil Karpadakis for the photo from the conference.

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