by Lucy Vivante
Olive Oil Times Contributor | Reporting from Jesi, Italy
“Where there’s an olive, there’s Pieralisi” is the Gruppo Pieralisi’s motto. Olive oil extraction equipment is the core business of this company and it dominates the world market with a 60% share. The company was founded in 1888 and continues to be family-owned. Gennaro Pieralisi, referred to as l’Ingegnere, or the Engineer, by his employees, is the company’s President and CEO. He is responsible for its huge growth, €180,000,000 ($225m) in sales in 2009, more than half of which is from olive oil systems. Mr. Pieralisi agreed to talk with the Olive Oil Times and the visit takes place on 20 May 2010. The conversation is in Italian, and the translations are this reporter’s.
The company has a large campus of buildings in Jesi’s industrial zone. Jesi is a small city, inland from Ancona and the Adriatic coast. Pieralisi’s buildings are new and the headquarters is spare and brilliant white, with shiny surfaces and glass. I don’t see many people other than the Ingegnere, but those I do see are glamorous and casually dressed younger people. The Ingegnere’s own office differs from the rigorously modern design of the other offices and public spaces. His office is comfortable: wooden furniture, paintings on the walls, papers and newspapers stacked on his desk, and wonderful green walls. Walls the color of olives. The Ingegnere is friendly and forthcoming.
Centrifugal force is the key technology in modern olive oil production. Force that is seven thousand times that of gravity is what spins and separates the oil from the olive pulp, skin, and pit. There are numerous companies trying to catch up with Pieralisi in the olive oil space. L’Ingegnere says “We are the only ones making the full system, from washing the olives, to crushing and kneading, to the centrifuges. There are multi-nationals, strong companies like Alfa-Laval, Flottweg, and Westfalia that make centrifuges for olive oil, but only the centrifuges. It is our technology and all of them have copied us. Now, they’re even copying our company colors. I’m thinking of changing our colors.” (Gennaro Pieralisi is the author of more than thirty patents. Patent infringement is difficult to enforce, especially across borders.)
The Ingegnere says that those who use a hybrid system, with centrifuges from one of the industrial giants and individual components, risk not knowing where the fault lies if the system breaks down, whereas if they have a Pieralisi system, if the machine breaks down, Pieralisi takes full responsibility and will fix it. He has service teams of 20 – 30 people located in all major olive oil producing regions. These are the people who pick the machinery up at the port, deliver and assemble the system for customers, spend a few days teaching them how to use it, and make repairs when necessary. Each of the service locations has an inventory of replacement parts for repairs. Recent models are wired so that if there is a problem, Pieralisi service people can diagnose remotely, from Jesi or anywhere else, what the malfunction is. From there they can give directions to the client on the fix or send out service people with the appropriate parts.
There are Italian companies, like Officine Meccaniche Toscane and Rapanelli who make full olive oil milling systems, but they’re much smaller, what he calls “piccoline, piccoline.” When I mention the home olive oil equipment, such as Oliomio produced in Australia, he says “They’re toys.” He makes pro machines. The Molinetto is the Pieralisi’s entry system. I ask him how much it costs, and he gets on the telephone for the price. A minute later, he has the answer, the Molinetto costs €29,000 ($36,250). The largest machines, of course, cost a great deal more than that, but the Ingegnere declines to specify.
Much of the conversation centers on Spain because that country produces nearly half of the world’s olive oil. Pieralisi says of southern Spain:
“If you go to Andalusia you see a sea of olive trees, all the hills are covered with olive trees. You can travel 200 kilometers and to the left and to the right, you’ll see nothing but olive trees. It’s a marvelous sight. Now is the flowering season in Spain’s olive country and the amount of pollen these trees produce is very high, so high that some people suffer from allergies, and you hear on the radio, every half hour, announcements about the percentage of pollen in the air. If the pollen gets to an unsafe level, the announcer recommends that those who are suffering from asthma go towards the sea. When you drive down the roads, you see pollen transported by the wind, the pollen swept down the roads, like snow, flour-like snow.”
Gennaro Pieralisi graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1965 from the University of Pisa. The following year, he went to Spain and set up a joint venture with Spanish investors to sell olive oil making equipment. It was an early, and very smart, entrance in what would become a huge market for Pieralisi. Interestingly, the Ingengnere says that it was only 25 years ago that the Spanish went into extra-virgin olive oil, before that it was mostly lampante oil, an inedible grade of oil. Most of Spain’s olive oil, about 80%, is produced by cooperatives. They are very powerful entities, often with their own banks. If the Molinetto, the entry system can process 6,000 kilos of olives in a twenty-four hour day, the ones Pieralisi sells to the Spanish cooperatives can process 100,000 kilos in 24 hours. Typically they will have 10 lines running at the same location, processing an amazing 1,000,000 kilos.
The Gruppo Pieralisi sells in all the countries in the world that produce olive oil, in the northern hemisphere those are countries between the 30 and 45th parallel, the band with the right climate conditions. Just recently four olive oil extraction systems were sold to customers in China. He says that the olive oil growing is in expansion, but it’s a slow expansion since it takes four years before the trees bear sufficient fruit, unlike other agricultural crops, which take six months or so, and can be planted, or not, depending on the market. Olive trees require a commitment of years. In the southern hemisphere, Australia and New Zealand, Chile and Brazil are relatively new entrants in the production of olives and good customers. Angola is considering planting olive trees.
In the next segment Gennaro Pieralisi shares his thoughts on the financial crisis, his company’s ongoing diversification and adulterated olive oil.