Business

Chilean Olive Oils on the Rise, but Challenges Await

Production hit a record high and domestic consumption is slowly growing, but some involved with the sector believe a few of the country’s largest challenges still lie ahead.

Carola Dümmer Medina
Nov. 7, 2018
By Daniel Dawson
Carola Dümmer Medina

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Chilean olive oil pro­duc­tion fin­ished at a record high output of 22,000 tons in 2018, accord­ing to data from ChileOliva.

Extra virgin olive oil is a prod­uct that you need to under­stand. It’s not some­thing that is easy to buy, such as rice or pasta, you really have to get to know the prod­uct.- Carola Dümmer Medina

For Carola Dümmer Medina, a judge at the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, a jour­nal­ist for the wine club mag­a­zine Revista Placeres and the founder of Olivalovers, this record yield seems to be a plateau for the Southern Hemisphere’s third largest olive oil pro­ducer.

“I don’t think we will get many more hectares or many more liters of oil,” she told Olive Oil Times. “I think now we’re in a state of con­sol­i­da­tion, more so than growth.”

While Dümmer Medina has not per­son­ally been involved with the pro­duc­tion side of the Chilean sector for the past few years — she now mostly focuses on edu­ca­tion and pro­mo­tion with her new ini­tia­tive — a sim­i­lar sen­ti­ment is echoed through­out the rest of the sector.

“Increasing the pro­duc­tion of olive oil is one of the main chal­lenges of the Chilean indus­try,” Gabriela Moglia, the gen­eral man­ager of ChileOliva, told Olive Oil Times. “ChileOliva is devel­op­ing a research project that aims to gen­er­ate a pre­dic­tive model that will allow pro­duc­ers to iden­tify the main fac­tors that influ­ence pro­duc­tion.”

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Part of what this model will help Chilean pro­duc­ers deal with is the cli­mate, which can be unpre­dictable and has pre­vi­ously dev­as­tated olive yields. Previous har­vest sea­sons, which have seen olive oil pro­duc­tion hover between 15,000 and 19,000 tons, have been plagued by drought, early frosts, wild­fires and land­slides.

“There have been better con­di­tions for olive cul­ti­va­tion at the national level this year, specif­i­cally the greater avail­abil­ity of water present in sec­tors that had been affected by severe droughts in recent years,” Moglia said.


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Claudio Lovazzano is the head of mar­ket­ing at Olisur, a Chilean olive oil pro­ducer and exporter. He agrees that better weather this year has helped with the har­vest and expects that over­all pro­duc­tion could increase if the weather remains a benev­o­lent ally.

“In our case, we expect pro­duc­tion to increase, although we know it will only be slightly,” he told Olive Oil Times. “In the rest of the coun­try, it is likely that Chile will increase its pro­duc­tion. We have seen good weather con­di­tions that pos­i­tively affect all olive oil pro­duc­ers.”

However, these nat­ural phe­nom­ena are out of pro­duc­ers’ con­trol and Dümmer Medina prefers to focus her efforts on fac­tors that can be con­trolled, which is why she has started her new ini­tia­tive, Olivalovers.

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“What I want to do most is to edu­cate the con­sumers,” she said. “Extra virgin olive oil is a prod­uct that you need to under­stand. It’s not some­thing that is easy to buy, such as rice or pasta, you really have to get to know the prod­uct.”

Part of what she does at Olivalovers is to go around and host tast­ing panels, teach­ing con­sumers and, occa­sion­ally retail­ers, how to dif­fer­en­ti­ate high-qual­ity extra virgin olive oil from infe­rior grades.

For Dümmer Medina, who is also an instruc­tor at the Olive Oil Times Education Lab Sommelier Certification Program, two of the biggest chal­lenges cur­rently facing the sector are increas­ing both domes­tic and inter­na­tional con­sump­tion of Chilean oil as well as crack­ing down on fraud.

Carola Dümmer Medina

She has been involved with the indus­try from its incep­tion, orga­niz­ing ChileOliva’s first press con­fer­ence during the 2003/04 har­vest season.

“The amount of con­sump­tion then was 250 ml per capita,” she said. “It was very low. Now we’re get­ting to 750 ml per capita, which is better but still quite low.”

“There are many pro­duc­ers making things right,” she added. “But we still need to get to the next level, and be able to sell high-qual­ity extra virgin olive oil at the same prices that Spanish or Italian com­pa­nies are sell­ing in mar­kets such as the U.S. or Asia.”

Education, Dümmer Medina repeats, is the best way for­ward. As a jour­nal­ist at Revista Placeres, she writes a monthly column dis­cussing dif­fer­ent aspects of extra virgin olive oil and fin­ish­ing off with a food and wine pair­ing sug­ges­tion for a spe­cific Chilean brand.
See more: Award-Winning Olive Oils from Chile

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Each of her columns is posted on her blog at Olivalovers and she also uses social media plat­forms, such as Instagram (@olivalovers), to reach out to the public as well.

“[This effort is] much more to create new tasters because you have to have this very spe­cific objec­tive to train how to taste,” she said. “To make them under­stand what is extra virgin and how to rec­og­nize a good oil in the super­mar­kets.”

No offi­cial sta­tis­tics about olive oil fraud are kept in Chile, but Dümmer Medina believes it is quite preva­lent, espe­cially with imported oils.

“We have a lot of fraud here actu­ally,” she said. “If we don’t edu­cate the con­sumers, these busi­ness prac­tices will con­tinue devel­op­ing.”

“One of the prob­lems we have is that nobody checks if the oils from the super­mar­ket are really what they are labeled as,” she added. “In some cases, it’s just a mis­take made by pro­duc­ers who don’t under­stand that one defect made those oils virgin instead of extra virgin. In other cases, espe­cially with imported oils, it’s because we get all those ter­ri­ble lam­pante oils labeled as extra virgin from indus­trial com­pa­nies.”

However, Dümmer Medina believes that efforts to edu­cate con­sumers and retail­ers is already begin­ning to have some suc­cess and that her edu­ca­tion ini­tia­tive will con­tinue to help in the future.

“Ten to 15 years ago most olive oil in super­mar­kets was from Spain and Italy,” she said. “After all of the work that the Chilean indus­try has been doing these past years, this has started to change. Now what is mostly sold in super­mar­kets is Chilean olive oil.”

“The goal is to get [con­sumers and retail­ers] to go to a pro­ducer to buy the real extra virgin olive oil,” she added.

Her opti­mism for the future is mir­rored by pro­duc­ers and offi­cials from ChileOliva as well.

“The high qual­ity of Chilean olive oil is already rec­og­nized in Chile and in the world,” Moglia, the gen­eral man­ager of ChileOliva, said. “This allows us to think of an aus­pi­cious future and con­tinue grow­ing the sector.”

Lovazzano, from the olive oil pro­duc­tion and export­ing com­pany, shares this opti­mism and sees the future in grow­ing demand in Brazil and Asia for health­ier food prod­ucts.

“We are very opti­mistic, due to the grow­ing con­sump­tion of olive oil in the world, the open­ing of new mar­kets and, in gen­eral, con­sumer demand for healthy foods,” he said.