Solfrut Sets Sights on Expanding Domestic Market as Production Grows

With 2,000 trees recently planted in super-high-density and a new mill, the award-winning company in San Juan seeks to grow Argentina’s olive oil culture.

(Photo: Solfrut)
By Paolo DeAndreis
Oct. 10, 2022 17:41 UTC
(Photo: Solfrut)

Olive groves flour­ish in San Juan, a north­west­ern province of Argentina, cov­er­ing a huge area and yield­ing sig­nif­i­cant vol­umes of extra vir­gin olive oil.

The coun­try’s largest olive oil pro­duc­ers thrive in the province, includ­ing the super-high-den­sity groves of Solfrut.

The new con­sumers in Argentina look at the labels and under­stand the herbal and fruity notes. The opin­ions of con­sumers are slowly evolv­ing.- Guillermo Kemp, com­mer­i­cal drec­tor, Solfrut

The com­pa­ny’s flag­ship extra vir­gin olive oils won two Gold Awards at the 2022 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, demon­strat­ing the poten­tial of research and mech­a­niza­tion.

We are so proud of such results. Awards such as these tell us that we are on the right path,” Guillermo Kemp, Solfrut’s com­mer­cial direc­tor, told Olive Oil Times. It has been joy­ful news not only for us here at head­quar­ters but also for all our peo­ple in the fields and the mills.”

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Most of the more than 3,000 hectares of olive groves man­aged by Solfrut are super-high-den­sity plan­ta­tions in which trees are placed very close to each other to increase pro­duc­tiv­ity through mech­a­niza­tion. Still, not all Solfrut orchards are alike.

We grow olives in three dif­fer­ent loca­tions, each with its own char­ac­ter­is­tics,” Kemp said. Our olive plan­ta­tions go from high-den­sity to super-high den­sity. From 600 trees in the first groves planted by the com­pany 25 years ago to 2,000 trees in the newest ones. The goal is the high­est qual­ity in all areas.”

High-den­sity and super-high-den­sity groves require irri­ga­tion, which has been a sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge for Solfrut.

When the com­pany started, this land was con­sid­ered a desert,” Kemp said. Lack of water and rain­fall are the norm. We have between 80 and 90 mil­lime­ters of rain each year.”

By com­par­i­son, in highly rel­e­vant olive-pro­duc­ing areas of the Mediterranean basin, such as Jaén in Spain, 500 to 600 mil­lime­ters of rain­fall per annum.

Understanding how to pro­ceed and how to bet­ter start olive cul­ti­va­tion in this region was not an easy task,” Kemp said. Which olive cul­ti­vars we had to focus on, and what kind of irri­ga­tion was needed, all of this required research.”


(Photo: Solfrut)

José Chediack [pres­i­dent of Solfrut’s par­ent com­pany] trav­eled to Europe, Australia and California while start­ing oper­a­tions here,” he added. Twenty-five years ago, the first water wells the com­pany dug went 500 meters below the ground.”

Kemp recalled how the com­pany ini­tially planted Frantoio and Leccino trees but later switched to Arbosana.

Frantoio trees were beau­ti­ful, huge, green, but year after year, they did not bear any fruit. We had to sub­sti­tute them,” Kemp said. Thanks to such decades-long research, we now know which cul­ti­vars are bet­ter to deploy, what kind of irri­ga­tion they need and so forth.”

Precision irri­ga­tion allows Solfrut to reduce water use while ensur­ing the trees receive the water they need.

Planting thou­sands of irri­gated trees in a high desert has impacted the local envi­ron­ment, and over time, new species of plants and ani­mals have started pop­u­lat­ing the region.

It has become some­thing like an oasis, with ani­mals unseen before, such as foxes and birds, and a grow­ing num­ber of plant species,” Kemp said.


Research is ongo­ing at Solfrut to under­stand the water cycle, reduce the envi­ron­men­tal impact of oper­a­tions and fos­ter a healthy ecosys­tem.

That is why about three years ago we estab­lished a sus­tain­abil­ity com­mit­tee which is entirely devoted to find­ing the best ways to opti­mize pro­duc­tion while also work­ing on our cir­cu­lar econ­omy, preser­va­tion of resources, such as water, and improv­ing bio­di­ver­sity,” Kemp said.

With that goal in mind, the com­pany has begun to reuse the olive pits for energy pro­duc­tion and fer­til­izer.

Our soil is quite poor, so it is helped by fer­til­iza­tion. We also dry the pits so that one year after their col­lec­tion, we can use them as fuel for heat­ing,” Kemp said. But this is just the begin­ning, as we are con­stantly improv­ing our envi­ron­men­tally-friendly approach.”

For exam­ple, Kemp said the com­pa­ny’s bot­tles are made of light PET, a recy­cled plas­tic.

Solfrut pro­duces approx­i­mately 3,500 tons of olive oil each year, which the com­pany hopes will increase as the num­ber of plan­ta­tions expands.

In 2023, Solfrut will also start its oper­a­tions at a new mill con­sid­ered to be the largest in South America.

We already have the struc­ture, we also installed the stain­less steel tanks in 35, 50 and 100-ton sizes, and we are now set­ting the mix­ers and decanters in place,” Kemp said. The plant will have a trans­for­ma­tion capac­ity of more than 500,000 kilo­grams of olives per day. And it will have 4,000 tons of olive oil stor­age capac­ity.”

Most of Solfrut’s pro­duc­tion is exported in bulk to coun­tries such as Brazil and the United States. Still, 20 per­cent of the 2022 har­vest is being sold in Argentina, where the com­pany holds a sig­nif­i­cant mar­ket share.


(Photo: Solfrut)

One out of eight bot­tles of olive oil con­sumed in Argentina is Olivita, one in four is one of Solfrut’s other olive oil prod­ucts,” Kemp said.

However, he believes that olive oil cul­ture and con­sumer aware­ness about the health ben­e­fits of extra vir­gin olive oil in Argentina still lag behind other coun­tries.

In the last 10 years, a coun­try like Chile has gone from 250 grams of olive oil con­sumed per per­son to over one kilo­gram,” Kemp said. The same has hap­pened in the United States. In Argentina, aver­age con­sump­tion is around 250 grams per year per per­son.”

Given the large share of the mar­ket, we feel respon­si­ble for the devel­op­ment of the olive oil cul­ture in our coun­try,” he added.

However, Kemp said Argentina’s affin­ity to olive oil is slowly begin­ning to grow. The first con­sumers of olive oil in Argentina were not look­ing for olive oil. They were look­ing for some kind of cook­ing oil with strong fla­vors which could remind them of, let’s say, a pizza,” he said.

Today, the new con­sumers in Argentina look at the labels and under­stand the herbal and fruity notes,” he added. The opin­ions of con­sumers are slowly evolv­ing. Education is the first step we as a com­pany have to con­tribute.”

To this end, Solfrut is try­ing to evan­ge­lize extra vir­gin olive oil qual­ity across the rich spec­trum of Argentina’s food cul­ture.

We made agree­ments with all the gas­tro­nomic insti­tutes of Argentina,” Kemp said. We showed them that the prod­uct most of them were using to edu­cate their stu­dents did not com­pare to a qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil.”

So we gave them ours for free, to help them cor­rectly inform their stu­dents about the unique pro­file of extra vir­gin olive oil,” he added. Along with the olive oils, Solfrut also pro­vided edu­ca­tional mate­r­ial to instruc­tors.

We have also invented a con­test for cater­ers and restau­rants,” Kemp said. Chefs from all over the coun­try par­tic­i­pate with their recipes, where extra vir­gin olive oil is the pro­tag­o­nist… With such actions, we began to edu­cate the con­sumer and raise aware­ness.”

Away from edu­ca­tion, Argentina’s dire macro­eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion is another chal­lenge for olive oil pro­duc­ers to over­come.

Olive oil is an expen­sive prod­uct, and we have no sup­port from the gov­ern­ment,” Kemp said. With econ­o­mists from its cen­tral bank pre­dict­ing annual infla­tion to exceed 100 per­cent by December, it is easy for many to choose other options.”

When the econ­omy finally improves, we expect inter­nal olive oil demand to grow sub­stan­tially,” he con­cluded.

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