The divest­ment marks the end of the tumul­tuous cam­paign by the Indian indus­tri­al­ist VN Dalmia to pop­u­lar­ize olive oil in a mar­ket reluc­tant to change.

Dalmia Continental is get­ting out of the olive oil busi­ness. The com­pany announced today it had sold its Leonardo brand to Cargill India.

VN Dalmia, 59, son of pio­neer indus­tri­al­ist Ramkrishna Dalmia, said, “Dalmia Continental drove the olive oil mar­ket in India to high rates of growth and made Leonardo the lead­ing brand. There is an inflec­tion point in the life of each prod­uct and Leonardo is at that point. It is poised to take the next leap for­ward to retain its lead­er­ship sta­tus and Cargill is the best new par­ent to pro­mote that effort.”

Himani Dalmia, gen­eral man­ager of Dalmia Continental, said the trans­ac­tion “demon­strates our will­ing­ness to be flex­i­ble in the face of chal­lenges and to imple­ment the right strat­egy at the right time.”

The olive oil mar­ket in India reached 12,000 tonnes in 2013, accord­ing to the Indian Olive Association, which works out to a mere two tea­spoons per year for the aver­age Indian. In a 2008 inter­view, Dalmia pre­dicted con­sump­tion of olive oil in India would reach 25,000 tons in 2010, and 42,000 tons in 2012 — fore­casts that turned out to be way off.

Dalmia has been crit­i­cized for focus­ing his mar­ket­ing efforts on olive pomace oil — the low­est edi­ble grade made by chem­i­cally extract­ing the last bit of oil from left­over olive pits and pulp, that is shunned by much of the world where it is rel­e­gated to use in food­ser­vice. But Mr. Dalmia told Olive Oil Times in a 2011 inter­view his crit­ics had it all wrong. “Criticism is mis­con­ceived and dis­plays a lack of under­stand­ing of the real­i­ties of the Indian mar­ket­place,” he said. “Good mar­ket­ing con­sists of deter­min­ing and giv­ing the cus­tomer what she wants and needs rather than try­ing to shove your prod­uct down her throat and tell her what is bet­ter for her.”

In 2012, the com­pany was served an order by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) to with­draw its print adver­tise­ments which had claimed that Leonardo Olive Pomace Oil “helps fight cho­les­terol and heart dis­ease,” “low­ers blood pres­sure,” “con­trols and pre­vents dia­betes” and “fights can­cer.”

In its deci­sion, the ASCI wrote: “Pomace olive oil is pro­duced by sol­vent extrac­tion and has poly­cyclic aro­matic hydro­car­bons (PAHs) which are both muta­genic and car­cino­genic. This is con­tra­dic­tory to the claim made for olive pomace oil in fight­ing can­cer. Additionally, the health ben­e­fits of olive oil are from extra vir­gin olive oil due to its antiox­i­dant con­tent, which is not present in pomace olive oil.”

Speaking last year at a sem­i­nar that was part of the New York International Olive Oil Competition, Dalmia laid out his rea­sons for ask­ing Indians to con­sider the grade that can’t even be legally called “olive oil.”

Traditional Indian cook­ing often calls for oil to be added to a hot pan, which would elim­i­nate the sought-after tastes and many of the nutri­ents in extra vir­gin olive oil. Olive pomace oil costs far less than other grades, Dalmia argued, and what Indians really need is the “low­est hur­dle” to a monoun­sat­u­rated fat that can replace the unhealthy polyun­sat­u­rated seed oils that have been con­tribut­ing to their early deaths.

Last August, Mr. Dalmia, who is also the pres­i­dent of the Indian Olive Association, touted the “dis­cov­ery of micro-nutri­ents in olive pomace oil,” pro­duc­ing lab reports that showed a higher amount of the com­pound toco­pherol in a sam­ple of olive pomace oil than in any of nine sam­ples of extra vir­gin olive oil tested. Experts called such test results highly unlikely and the International Olive Council requested the sam­ples to con­firm the results in its own labs, which even­tu­ally found sig­nif­i­cantly lower lev­els than Dalmia reported.

Commenting on the acqui­si­tion, Siraj Chaudhry, chair­man of Cargill India, said “We have a his­tory of acquir­ing brands with very high pedi­grees. Leonardo Olive Oil is an iconic and trusted name asso­ci­ated with purity, good­ness and cook­ing healthy deli­cious food, since 2003. Olive oil is a rapidly grow­ing seg­ment gain­ing much pop­u­lar­ity as a healthy cook­ing option.”


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