Being fluent in Greek, German, French, English and Dutch is big asset for Oliver Frick who “accidentally” found himself in the Greek olive oil industry. The knowledge of several languages and an understanding of various cultures has enabled him to successfully sell Greek olive oil in key European markets like Germany.
Keys to Success
Frick, who is part Italian, German and Greek hails from Belgium, where he ran a glass fiber composites company. Five years ago he decided to leave that life behind and settle in Greece with his family. He wanted to try something new professionally and eventually found himself in the olive oil exporting business, something completely out of his field. It didn’t matter. He says his multicultural background and fluency in languages helped him jump start his company Olisi Export Mediterranean Products. Even with Greece’s economic crisis surrounding him, Frick’s company has grown 50 percent over the last year alone.
“I started exporting Greek olive oil for fun actually. Then, one day something clicked and I realized that there is in fact great potential in this business. I understood that people like quality. They are looking for traditional and honest products and they will buy them if where they know where that product comes from. Greece has that combination with olive oil.”
Frick started in the deli market side of the business supplying olive oil and olive products directly to Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Frick says he was surprised at first how many people loved extra virgin olive oil. Today he focuses on distribution, production and manufacturing, as well as other gourmet products from Greece.
“The potential to sell Greek products is so high. The products are just superb but unfortunately not many people here know marketing or understand their potential. For example, Greek producers sell cheap to Italy instead of doing it themselves.”
Frick is right. According to recent reports from the Greek Statistics Bureau (EL.STAT), a large percentage of extra virgin olive oil continues to be exported in bulk to Italy and the trend shows no signs of stopping. In the first quarter of 2013, bulk olive oil sales to Italy increased compared to last year. The total amounted to 55,947 tons or 76 percent of exports from Greece, worth 154 million euros. That’s more than a 50 percent increase from 2012 where the exports to Italy leveled off at 22, 740 tons during the same quarter.
Greece’s Deputy Minister of Rural Development and Food, Maximus Charakopoulos, has also pointed out that only 20 percent of Greece’s total olive oil production — and 25 percent of Greece’s oil exports — are standardized. Meanwhile, the corresponding figures for Italy are around 75 percent and 97 percent and for Spain at 50 percent and 55 percent.
The Right Approach
Frick continues focus on European markets like Germany, which is the 11th largest olive oil consumption market in the world. Greece, Italy and Spain are the top sellers to Germany which has increased its olive oil consumption six fold over the past two decades.
“A lot of Greeks live in Germany — and Germans go to live in Greece — so there are positive ties between the two countries. Now, this is not always visible due to the economic differences between the two countries, but still I believe there is a nice connection, and Germans continue to appreciate and find value in products like Greek extra-virgin olive oil.”
According to a report by the Office for Economic and Commercial Affairs of the Greek consulate in Düsseldorf, Greek virgin olive oil exports to Germany increased as well in 2012 to about 6.2 thousand tons, worth about €24 million.
“The market tells you what to sell,” says Frick who is also setting his sights on markets like China and India. “We doubled sales this year so there is demand but you have to have the right business mentality to meet that demand.”