politicians and company and union representatives who attended the October 1 event in Sitia

As the millennium began, some of the world’s top awards went to extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) from the Union of Agricultural Cooperatives of Sitia in Greece. Although its members kept making excellent EVOO, the Union ran into fiscal difficulties. Now a new company, LASITIA, seeks to return the best Sitian olive oil to its rightful place in global markets.

In both 2001 and 2002, just after the International Olive Council established its extremely rigorous, highly competitive Mario Solinas Quality Awards, the Union of Agricultural Cooperatives of Sitia won first place in the competition. Since this competition is considered the strictest, most difficult extra virgin olive oil contest in the world, this was an extraordinary achievement. The Union’s EVOO also went on to win 3rd prize at the same competition in 2005.

Located in the eastern part of the island of Crete, the Union faced serious challenges in the following years. Even so, Sitia remained well known for its high quality Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) extra virgin olive oil, which is registered as “PDO Sitia Lasithiou Kritis.” According to European regulations for PDO products, “every part of the production, processing and preparation process must take place in the specific region,” giving a PDO product the strongest possible link to a particular place and its people and traditions.

In order to revitalize Sitia PDO olive oil and related brands, thus helping to overcome the financial difficulties of the Union and its olive oil producers, a new company called LASITIA - Sitia Olive Oil S.A. was recently established. This new entity formalizes the collaboration of the Union of Agricultural Cooperatives of Sitia with three large private companies: Inspiring Earth; Raidestos S.A., which is part of K & N Efthymiadis; and Gaia Epicheirein. <

In partnership with the Union, this group of investors aims to recapture “some of the old glory of the Union and the old glory of the olive oil,” as LASITIA - Sitia Olive Oil S.A. CEO George Kondylis told Greek Liquid Gold. LASITIA will undertake management of the facilities, bottling, branding, warehousing, distribution, promotion, and sales, while the Union’s cooperatives will remain responsible for production of PDO Sitia olive oil in their mills.  

For years, the Union’s financial struggles prevented it from supporting the area’s olive farmers with a fair price for their olive oil, which was sold in bulk at low prices. LASITIA’s plan is to bottle this extra virgin olive oil right in Sitia, so consumers know exactly what they are getting and where it comes from, while the local community benefits from the added value of a branded product. “This venture affects the whole community in Sitia,” emphasizes Kondylis. “It affects everyone, because the main revenue stream – 70% of the money generated in Sitia -- comes from olive oil.” Now, “the whole community expects this will bring the income back to what it should be.”

On October 1, the establishment of LASITIA - Sitia Olive Oil S.A. was officially announced in Sitia at an event attended by representatives of cooperatives and companies, as well as many Greek political figures, including Minister of Rural Development and Food Mavroudis Voridis, Minister of Maritime Affairs and Insular Policy Ioannis Plakiotakis, and Governor of Crete Stavros Arnaoutakis.

Kondylis believes so many government officials attended that event because they were impressed by the plan for private enterprises to work closely with the Union of Agricultural Cooperatives of Sitia, which comprises local cooperatives focused on the interests of the people who live and work in the area. As Mariza Psaraki wrote for Anatoli, Manolis Mavromatakis, president of the Union, reported that Minister Voridis told him, “This effort is a model, and I will convey it throughout Greece."

The government seems to appreciate what Kondylis describes as a model of collaboration between “private enterprise and cooperatives working under a common umbrella. Supporting such initiatives will help the local community develop financially,” as well as restoring pride as they see their famous local brand flourish in the international marketplace once again.

On October 2, dozens of representatives from numerous cooperatives gathered in Sitia to discuss their potential collaboration with LASITIA - Sitia Olive Oil S.A. As Psaraki reported, many members of local agricultural cooperatives showed interest in the new company by actively participating in a discussion about the way the company could support olive oil producers.  

According to Psaraki, Union president Mavromatakis commented, "it is really a new day for the Union of Sitia, the producers of the region, the olive oil of Sitia.” Pleased by the support of many local cooperatives and of local, regional, and national political leaders, he expects LASITIA to offer both higher prices for the producers’ olive oil, and support for cultivation and production processes that can reduce producers’ costs.

Gaia Epicheirein CEO John Mavroudis is glad to offer his company’s support for “a historic cooperative with high quality products,” since this enables Gaia Epicheirein to contribute to “the repositioning of Sitia olive oil on the market on a sound basis, in order to ensure its viability and long-term development and recognition. LASITIA is a model of innovative synergy to support cooperative business development.” Mavroudis told Olivenews.gr that Gaia Epicheirein generally aims to strengthen Greek cooperative organizations in order to help them overcome past problems and resume their work for the benefit of producers.

In Sitia, Gaia Epicheirein vice president Christos Barlias stressed that "agricultural cooperatives are above all living cells of the countryside, with a key contribution to local economic and social development. They are a ‘tool’ with a history but also with a future, able to adapt to the new conditions while maintaining their core: services to their members and to the local community." The new collaborative venture of LASITIA - Sitia Olive Oil S.A. aims to help a historic cooperative continue this vital work, while sharing its flavorful, healthy extra virgin olive oil with consumers around the world.

Thanks to George Kondylis for the photo used with the article.

All businesses, organizations, and competitions involved with Greek olive oil, the Mediterranean diet, and/or agrotourism or food tourism in Greece, as well as anyone else interested in supporting Greeks working in these sectors, are now invited to consider the advertising and sponsorship opportunities on the Greek Liquid Gold: Authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil website. The only wide-ranging English-language site featuring news and information from the Greek olive oil world, it has reached readers in more than 200 countries around the globe.

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