` Greek Olive Oil Producers Struggle in China - Olive Oil Times

Greek Olive Oil Producers Struggle in China

Mar. 20, 2014
Marissa Tejada

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Stelios Vytogiannis of Foodrinco is deter­mined to make it in China.

Greece, one of the top olive oil pro­duc­ing coun­tries in the world, is look­ing east for new oppor­tu­ni­ties. Olive oil pro­duc­ers and dis­trib­u­tors are eye­ing China’s immense mar­ket. However, they are find­ing that their qual­ity prod­ucts are not an easy sell. For sev­eral in the busi­ness, their recent efforts are prov­ing to be dis­ap­point­ing, yet they remain hopeful.

The Potential

Vassilia Fragaki, the pres­i­dent of Cooperativa Sitia, one of the largest olive oil coop­er­a­tives in Greece, said the poten­tial in China is alluring.

The sales poten­tial is great. So we made a deci­sion that we needed to build our efforts in the Chinese mar­ket. It has been very inter­est­ing for us so far,” said Fragaki.

Fragaki added that efforts over the past few years have involved sub­stan­tial prepa­ra­tion includ­ing every­thing from trans­la­tion, cre­at­ing a strate­gic mar­ket­ing plan to hir­ing Chinese rep­re­sen­ta­tives based in tar­get cities. 

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Recently, Fragaki joined a mar­ket­ing trip orga­nized by the Greek olive oil con­fer­ence and exhi­bi­tion group, Eleotexnia. In November 2013, along with sev­eral other Greek pro­duc­ers, Cooperativa Sitia’s team aimed to broaden con­tacts and present their olive oils at the Shanghai Food Exhibition. Fragaki said results have yet to be seen but the effort has been worth it so far.”

We’re begin­ning to unfold the secrets of the mar­ket. I feel at this point we can con­tinue to take small steps and by next year we can think about mov­ing on to big­ger steps.”

Changing Plans

Nikos Monahoyios of Ergofood Greece isn’t as hope­ful any longer. He attended sev­eral Chinese food exhi­bi­tions where he quickly learned that Greek par­tic­i­pa­tion and mar­ket­ing sup­port was low. He felt he found a great oppor­tu­nity to show­case his Greek brand and qual­ity Greek olive oils. However, he admits he faced disappointment.

Nikos Monahoyios of Ergofood Greece isn’t as hope­ful about the mar­ket in China for his Greek olive oils.

The Chinese may have a grow­ing upper class inter­ested in prod­ucts like ours but they can’t find the top qual­ity. Their mar­ket isn’t reli­able and they’re not trained enough yet to select authen­tic high qual­ity olive oil and wine products.”

Monahoyios, who also exports Greek wines, said in China prod­ucts like Greek olive oils are pur­chased mostly to show off among friends and gain social status.”

In our opin­ion the Chinese con­sum­ing behav­ior isn’t mature enough. They want to fol­low the Western con­sum­ing cul­ture and habits but their only cri­te­rion in their choice is price and not quality.”

He pointed out that recent research showed that most of the French wines sold in China are not actu­ally French but just have a French label. He believes the same can hap­pen with olive oil. Monahoyios said that one Chinese com­pany sug­gested that he even change the num­bers on acid­ity lev­els, even though, he said, they did­n’t know what the num­bers meant.

Of course we denied work­ing with them.”

Meanwhile, at exhi­bi­tions, Monahoyios was thrilled that Chinese traders loved the taste and qual­ity of his olive oil.

They were say­ing that it was the best olive oil they tasted but when they were ask­ing about the price the first reac­tion was that it was too expensive.”

After his efforts, Monahoyios is giv­ing up.

I’m hon­estly so dis­ap­pointed from the Chinese mar­ket after all these neg­a­tive expe­ri­ences with the Chinese con­sum­ing behav­ior and per­cep­tion that I can say now that I am not aim­ing in this mar­ket any longer.”

Monahoyios will focus on the U.S. mar­ket instead.

Consumer per­cep­tion is more advanced,” he said. I can see now why there is a wide effort from sev­eral Greek com­pa­nies try­ing to pro­mote the Greek olive oil and its qual­ity, espe­cially over the past few years.”

Up and Down

Stelios Vytogiannis of Foodrinco intro­duced his Greek extra vir­gin olive oils to the Chinese mar­ket two years ago. He had also hired a local Chinese sales and mar­ket­ing asso­ciate to pro­mote his products.

The lan­guage, time dif­fer­ence and cul­ture all play a role,” said Vytogiannis. There is room in China, of course, but it is dif­fi­cult to get access.” To describe his frus­tra­tion he com­pared his attempts in China to another Asian market.

In Korea, I was able to ship prod­ucts and cre­ate a good busi­ness rela­tion­ship quite eas­ily in less than two months. My expe­ri­ence in China has been an uphill battle.”

Vytogiannis said every­thing seemed grim when his Chinese asso­ciate stopped answer­ing his phone calls and emails. Their busi­ness rela­tion­ship came to an end. That blow to his invest­ment, he says, didn’t stop him.

It’s our third year try­ing and we’ve already invested so much so we must go on. We’ll find some­one new to help us in China. We are deter­mined to get some results.”


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