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Bulk Exports from Greece Help Fuel the Italian Olive Oil Industry

Exporters would earn more with branded products, however, entering the Italian market requires resources beyond the reach of many small Greek producers.
Attica, Greece
By Costas Vasilopoulos
Sep. 6, 2022 21:26 UTC

Greece is con­sis­tently the sec­ond-largest sup­plier of the Italian olive oil indus­try after Spain cov­er­ing a sig­nif­i­cant part of Italy’s demand for imported olive oil each year, accord­ing to an analy­sis of the Italian olive oil sec­tor by the Office of Economic and Commercial Affairs of the Greek Embassy in Milan.

In 2021, more than 75 per­cent of Greek olive oil exports went to Italy in bulk, the analy­sis found. In other words, Greece sup­plied more than 111,000 tons of the 500,000 tons of olive oil Italy imported, rep­re­sent­ing 22 per­cent of all Italy’s olive oil imports last year.

Exports of Greek olive oil in bulk are not to blame for the country’s lim­ited exports of branded olive oil. The issue is mainly due to the inef­fi­cacy of domes­tic exporters. - Yiorgos Economou, gen­eral direc­tor, SEVITEL

On the other hand, Spain, the world’s largest pro­ducer and exporter of olive oil, accounted for more than 60 per­cent of the Italian olive oil imports that year.

Total exports of Greek olive oil of all grades reached 146,000 tons in 2021 and were val­ued at €533 mil­lion, while 165,000 tons val­ued at €470 mil­lion were exported from the coun­try in 2020.

See Also:Olive Oil Trade News

The fig­ures indi­cate that Italy is the largest buyer of Greek olive oil. However, the oil from Greece flows to neigh­bor­ing Italy in bulk, with Greek pro­duc­ers and exporters rou­tinely fail­ing to gain the added value of branded olive oil.

Additionally, the report said that Italian importers usu­ally pay less for Greek olive oil than oil pro­duced in Italy. Based on his­tor­i­cal data, until 2020, a kilo­gram of imported Greek extra vir­gin olive oil cost Italian traders less than €3.00 com­pared with the price at ori­gin in Italy of around €3.70.

According to Medit Hellas, a com­pany based in Patras that exports unpack­aged olive oil to Italy and other coun­tries, Greek pro­duc­ers are largely depen­dent on Italian traders when look­ing to sell their oils.

The large pro­duc­ing and bot­tling com­pa­nies of Italy call the shots in the Greek olive oil sec­tor to a great extent,” the com­pa­ny’s own­ers told Olive Oil Times. They come each year and buy large amounts of Greek olive oil.”

Italy bot­tles 800,000 to 900,000 tons of olive oil each sea­son,” they added. With the coun­try’s pro­duc­tion rang­ing between 250,000 and 300,000 tons, they need a lot more olive oil, which they buy from other pro­duc­ing coun­tries, includ­ing Greece and Spain.”

Greek olive oil is gen­er­ally pricier than oils of other coun­tries, but Italians buy it in large quan­ti­ties and always in bulk to make blends,” the Medit Hella own­ers con­tin­ued. The Italian mar­ket for olive oil is dom­i­nated by domes­tic brands. We are unaware of a sin­gle Greek pro­ducer export­ing branded olive oil to Italy.”

It is also com­mon prac­tice for Italian com­mer­cial agents to travel to Greek olive oil-pro­duc­ing regions to mon­i­tor how the sea­son is evolv­ing and what to expect in terms of quan­tity and qual­ity.

Last spring, Italian importers paid a visit to the area of Laconia in the south­ern Peloponnese to take a closer look at the flow­er­ing of the olive trees.

Petrina’s agri­cul­tural coop­er­a­tive in Laconia, one of the first olive oil asso­ci­a­tions in Greece founded more than a cen­tury ago, has long been export­ing olive oil to Italy.

Around 30 to 40 per­cent of the olive oil we pro­duce each year is exported to Italy in bulk,” the coop­er­a­tive told Olive Oil Times. We also export packed branded olive oil to other coun­tries, includ­ing the United States and Canada. However, we haven’t yet fig­ured out how to send bot­tled olive oil to Italy.”

We pro­duce and export only extra vir­gin olive oil of top qual­ity,” they added. Of course, despite the high stan­dards of our olive oil, we do not get a pre­mium for our exports to Italy since our oil is shipped unbranded.”

Around 30 per­cent of the olive oil bot­tled in Italy is exclu­sively of Italian ori­gin, the report said, while the widely accepted high-qual­ity of Italian olive oil is crit­i­cal to its suc­cess in global mar­kets.


In addi­tion, the long-stand­ing prac­tice of Italian bot­tlers acquir­ing olive oils from other coun­tries and blend­ing them has resulted in blended olive oil being reg­is­tered in con­sumers’ con­scious­ness glob­ally as an exclu­sively Made in Italy’ prod­uct.

A few years back, Costco, the world’s sixth-largest retailer, switched from Italian to Greek olive oil for its Kirkland sig­na­ture extra vir­gin olive oil blend due to sup­ply prob­lems and ris­ing prices of Italian olive oils.

See Also:The Best Olive Oils from Greece

Costco changed the cap and the label of the bot­tles accord­ingly to illus­trate the new con­tent. However, after a lit­tle more than a year, the com­pany returned to blends from Italian sup­pli­ers after its cus­tomers looked to buy Italian olive oil.

It was what mem­bers wanted,” Chad Sokol, Costco’s olive oil buyer at the time, told Olive Oil Times in a 2016 inter­view. They’re used to what they’re used to, and there’s a per­cep­tion that Italian extra vir­gin olive oil is top-of-the-line. The Greek oil did ok. I pre­ferred it in a blind tast­ing, but it was not quite as strong a seller.”

Branded Greek olive oil remains absent from Italy’s domes­tic mar­ket, where mono­va­ri­etal (oils made from a sin­gle olive vari­ety) and blended olive oils of Italian pro­duc­tion dom­i­nate the mar­ket for olive oil.

Sofia Zervaki, a Greek who has been liv­ing and work­ing in Rome for the last 20 years, said that the super­mar­ket shelves in the cap­i­tal are packed with Made in Italy’ olive oil and blends of olive oil of European Union ori­gin.

I usu­ally use olive oil from the fam­ily groves back in Greece to cook with,” Zervaki told Olive Oil Times. However, dur­ing the lock­downs, I had to buy olive oil from the super­mar­ket, and I could only find Italian oil or blends pro­duced by Italian com­pa­nies. There is no bot­tled olive oil from Spain or Greece.”

What is more, the labels on the bot­tles are not as infor­ma­tive and com­pre­hen­sive as on other food prod­ucts, yogurt and feta cheese, for exam­ple,” she added. One can­not know the exact coun­try of pro­duc­tion of the olive oil used in Italian blends.”

According to European Union leg­is­la­tion, blends of olive oil sold in the 27-mem­ber bloc should bear rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion on their labels des­ig­nat­ing whether the blended oils were pro­duced within the E.U. or in non‑E.U. coun­tries, nonethe­less, with­out spec­i­fy­ing the exact coun­try of ori­gin.

Meanwhile, the authors of the analy­sis pro­posed a set of mea­sures for Greek pro­duc­ers and exporters to take to pen­e­trate the Italian mar­ket with branded olive oils, includ­ing con­sis­tently par­tic­i­pat­ing in food fairs and olive oil com­pe­ti­tions held in the neigh­bor­ing coun­try, orga­niz­ing famil­iar­iza­tion tours for Italian jour­nal­ists and traders to mills and bot­tling facil­i­ties in Greece and invit­ing food blog­gers and influ­encers from Italy to attend tast­ing events in Greece.

However, break­ing into the Italian olive oil mar­ket with branded prod­ucts could be ardu­ous for aspir­ing Greek pro­duc­ers.

The olive oil mar­ket in Italy is mainly sus­tained by the domes­ti­cally pro­duced olive oil, and Italian con­sumers are addicted to the organolep­tic and qual­ity char­ac­ter­is­tics of Italian vari­eties, much like con­sumers in Greece,” Yiorgos Economou, the gen­eral direc­tor of the Greek Association of Olive Oil Bottlers (SEVITEL), told Olive Oil Times.

Bottled olive oil in small quan­ti­ties from other coun­tries could reach the shelves in spe­cial­ized gro­cery stores, but the expected sales would in no way cover the costs of export­ing and pro­mot­ing the oils in Italy,” he added.

When it comes to Greek exporters, a coor­di­nated effort by Enterprise Greece,’ the national orga­ni­za­tion for invest­ing and trad­ing, might coax some com­pa­nies to con­tribute their resources to pro­mote their brand,” Economou con­tin­ued. However, based on prior expe­ri­ence, most exporters would select other, eas­ier-to-reach export des­ti­na­tions.”

Economou also attrib­uted the lim­ited, in com­par­i­son to the country’s exports of bulk olive oil, exports of pack­aged Greek olive oil to the fact that global mar­kets remain largely unreach­able for Greek pro­duc­ers and exporters.

Exports of Greek olive oil in bulk are not to blame for the country’s lim­ited exports of branded olive oil,” he said. The issue is mainly due to the inef­fi­cacy of domes­tic exporters in set­ting up proper trad­ing chan­nels and the small size of Greek com­pa­nies, which lack the finan­cial resources to pro­mote and mar­ket their olive oils abroad for extended peri­ods.”

Fortunately, for the time being, Greek olive oil is highly appre­ci­ated by Italian and Spanish traders for its supe­rior qual­ity and spe­cial organolep­tic char­ac­ter­is­tics,” Economou con­cluded. Otherwise, large quan­ti­ties of it would remain unsold, with a pro­found impact on our grow­ers and pro­duc­ers.”


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