an olive grove near the sea

In April, Greek Liquid Gold described the varied effects of social distancing and closures on three Greek olive oil companies. As supermarket sales of olive oil increased, but specialty store and restaurant sales plummeted, Greek olive oil companies offered contrasting reactions. They recently provided updates on their responses to the coronavirus pandemic.

Evi Psounou Prodromou, co-owner of Yanni’s Olive Grove in Chalkidiki, northern Greece, closed their bottling plant from March 13 to May 31 but did not lay off any of their employees. Instead, Yanni’s made up the difference between the Greek government’s support payments and their workers’ usual salaries, seeking to honor years of dedication and hard work. “For our company, the COVID-19 pandemic was a nightmare,” Prodromou told Greek Liquid Gold. “It was like everything stopped in a second.”

On the first day of June, in spite of decreased demand for their extra virgin olive oil, some Yanni’s Olive Grove employees resumed work part-time. The company continues to ensure that all staff members receive their full-time salaries. Yanni’s is still selling little in the USA; however, the northern European market has “started to move, but with small steps.” Prodromou says they “hope and pray that the global markets remain open next winter.”

Maria Katsetos, owner of Loutraki Oil Company at the northeastern edge of the Peloponnese peninsula, also hopes for the best. She told Greek Liquid Gold in April that sales and production of their Elea extra virgin olive oil had largely continued, with social distancing, extra cleaning and sterilization, and other precautions to protect the health of employees and consumers.

Now Katsetos reports that their company has remained open continuously, enabling their employees to keep their jobs, but their customers have become more cautious, and sales have slowed down. Clients worry about possible delays in transportation, communication, and money transfers, and they try to avoid too much contact with people, which means fewer deliveries. “They are staying within their own boundaries until they feel safer and more secure; they are afraid of catching the coronavirus.” 

“People are insecure about these uncertain times,” added Katsetos. “It’s not business as usual, but a new business climate. They don’t teach you about this in business school. You need experience, and you need to share it. It’s no time to be selfish.” She shares ideas with other businesspeople, even competitors. “We have to help each other in our community. These are demanding and difficult times.”

On the island of Crete, where very few coronavirus cases have been confirmed, Eftychios Androulakis did not run into so many difficulties with his small olive oil production and bottling company, Pamako. He has been able to continue most of his usual work, including the experiments he has conducted for years. Accounting for 70% of his turnover, Androulakis’s online sales have actually grown in Europe, Russia, and the USA. Recently, he has also been selling his high phenolic, organic extra virgin olive oil to touristic and specialty shops, where his collaborators are now preparing for summer visitors. “In about 2 months our tanks will be empty!”

Alexandros Bikas recently reported in Agrotypos that hotels, restaurants, and catering establishments in Greece have been purchasing very little olive oil, while sales of Greek olive oil abroad bring very low prices. Prodromou and Katsetos’s experiences also seem to support a rather discouraging picture of the international olive oil marketplace during the pandemic.

On the other hand, Androulakis’s situation exemplifies what Ekathimerini.com views as “the continued strong performance of Greek exports in categories such as food, olive oil and chemicals.” Ekathimerini.com reports “significant declines in both exports and imports in April compared to last year” in Greece overall, but olive oil was among the exports that helped mitigate “the losses from other categories and in several cases actually strengthened foreign customers’ confidence in Greek exporting enterprises.”  

News from different companies and different parts of Greece varies, and comments from three businesses cannot be considered broadly representative. These are merely snapshots from the Greek olive oil world. Even so, combining positive messages about support for employees and competitors with good news about sales in certain areas and cases, it seems possible that the olive oil sector could offer this small country some encouragement in the time of the coronavirus pandemic.

(Thanks to Yanni's Olive Grove for the photo of their grove near the sea, and to Pamako for the photo of the bottle.)

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