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VN Dalmia Offers an Olive Oil Reality Check

Dec. 4, 2011
Curtis Cord

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Indians are fac­ing a health cri­sis – like in other coun­tries – from mod­ern stresses and lack of exer­cise. Are you con­cerned about this trend? What should be done about this?

India ranks as World No.1 in car­diac patients with 10 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion affected. The US and Europe are jointly No.2 with 7 per­cent each. WHO expects heart dis­ease to be the sin­gle great­est killer in India by 2015. More than 100 mil­lion peo­ple in India suf­fer from heart dis­ease. The high­est growth of heart dis­ease is among young cor­po­rate exec­u­tives. Additionally, 31 per­cent of urban Indians are either over­weight or obese. 140 mil­lion peo­ple in India have high blood pres­sure. Over 40 per­cent of urban Indians have high lipid lev­els. 140 mil­lion peo­ple in India have high blood pres­sure – 14 per­cent of world patients & 26 per­cent of the Indian pop­u­la­tion. Over 40 per­cent of urban Indians have high lipid lev­els. India is the dia­betic cap­i­tal of world with an esti­mated 51 mil­lion peo­ple affected. The sit­u­a­tion is already a national emer­gency. We need a healthy oil. Olive oil (includ­ing olive pomace oil) is the world’s health­i­est edi­ble oil.

Heart dis­ease, to a large extent, is a lifestyle dis­ease as are dia­betes and hyper­ten­sion. As the national health sit­u­a­tion is already an emer­gency, the need of the hour is to pro­mote a pre­ven­tive lifestyle to the gen­eral pub­lic. What is required is edu­ca­tion at a mass level start­ing at pri­mary school about lifestyle dis­eases, their causes and meth­ods of pre­ven­tion. A pre­ven­tive lifestyle includes diet and exer­cise. A sig­nif­i­cant com­po­nent of any health diet is a high MUFA oil. The Ministry of Health is talk­ing about a cam­paign to com­bat lifestyle dis­eases. The State Governments also need to be involved. Meals pro­vided by the Government to chil­dren must be pre­pared in healthy oils. Extensive ad and edu­ca­tional cam­paigns must be launched. Olive oil must be included in such cam­paigns as a healthy, high MUFA oil.

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You are invit­ing investors to join in your expan­sion ini­tia­tives. How is that going so far?

Very well. We have sev­eral offers for par­tic­i­pa­tion in our growth equity and are eval­u­at­ing the pro­pos­als. We shall make announce­ments shortly.

Is Borges your biggest com­peti­tor? How are you doing against them?

No, Borges is not. There are oth­ers who have been estab­lished in India longer than Borges. However, we wel­come wor­thy com­peti­tors like Borges. As they are cor­po­ra­tized, they belong to the orga­nized sec­tor. Their mar­ket­ing ini­tia­tives, like ours, will serve to grow the mar­ket. It is the small importers who import to make a quick buck that end up spoil­ing the mar­ket. Every importer and his cousin gets the smart” idea of import­ing olive oil. As it is dif­fi­cult to list a new brand in mod­ern trade due to heavy list­ing fees or to place it in tra­di­tional retail due to non-accep­tance of an unknown brand, they are unable to sell their prod­uct and end up liq­ui­dat­ing stock at crazy dis­counts, in effect sell­ing even below cost. This notion that a quick buck can be made by import­ing a con­tainer of olive oil has been the sure road to ruin for many and cre­ates havoc in the mar­ket. However, a slow process of con­sol­i­da­tion is tak­ing place, a few brands are gain­ing promi­nence and I expect that many brands will fall by the way-side in the next 2 years. With grad­ual com­modi­ti­za­tion, mar­gins will also reduce and con­sol­i­da­tion will occur.

We work together with Borges and oth­ers in the Indian Olive Association. At the moment, Leonardo is by far the largest importer of olive oil in the edi­ble seg­ment (as opposed to the mas­sage seg­ment).

Sir, what would you say to our read­ers – peo­ple around the world who are olive oil con­sumers, healthy cook­ing enthu­si­asts and olive indus­try pro­fes­sion­als?

I’d like to empha­size to my col­leagues in the indus­try and to your read­ers that the real chal­lenge in India is to grow the mar­ket. We should not waste time and energy in crit­i­ciz­ing dif­fer­ent grades of olive oil or each other. The con­sump­tion was a mere 4,000 tonnes last year and is expected to be 6,000 tonnes this year bar­ring unfore­seen eco­nomic events. These num­bers are just too small and not wor­thy of a nation such as India. Once the total con­sump­tion grows to a respectable level and once a respectable pro­por­tion of our 1.2 bil­lion pop­u­la­tion is aware of olive oil, per­haps we can begin to pro­mote dif­fer­ent grades, deride each oth­ers’ prod­ucts and upgrade con­sumers to higher grades of olive oil. It is too early right now in the devel­op­ment of our mar­ket to waste time in fight­ing each other.

Furthermore, the total pro­duc­tion of olive oil in the world is 3+ mil­lion tonnes. The total con­sump­tion of edi­ble oil in India alone is above 15 mil­lion tonnes. You can imag­ine what is the total con­sump­tion of edi­ble oil in the world includ­ing China. The chal­lenge really is to spread aware­ness of the ben­e­fits of olive oil so that world­wide con­sump­tion of this healthy edi­ble oil and healthy cook­ing habits grow and that olive oil becomes a greater pro­por­tion of oil in gen­eral use.

Olive oil purists, in their zeal to pro­mote the ben­e­fits and taste of Extra Virgin, miss the point. Already, pro­duc­ers in Spain are suf­fer­ing because they are unable to sell their pro­duc­tion. This year, there will be increases of pro­duc­tion in Turkey, Tunisia, Argentina and oth­ers. While pro­duc­tion in Greece and Italy is expected to decline, total pro­duc­tion will grow. Internecine squab­bling will not serve to grow the world mar­ket.

Olive Oil Times is doing a yeo­man job of spread­ing the word. I encour­age you and your read­ers to take for­ward and spread an enlight­ened view as well as the big pic­ture.

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