The Rise of Organic Olive Oil in Greece

Small-scale Greek producers are taking a gamble that the risk of investing in organic olive oil production will pay off. Some say Greece has the ideal conditions in which to do so.

By Sofia Spirou - Agronews
Jan. 31, 2019 06:13 UTC

For Greek con­sumers, organic olive oil and olives are a high-end prod­uct. To com­pen­sate for higher pro­duc­tion costs, pro­duc­ers charge a higher price, which makes demand for organic olives and olive oil weak.

With a large vari­ety of qual­ity olive oils avail­able at very afford­able prices, com­pe­ti­tion for the organic ver­sions of the country’s favorite sta­ples will always be healthy.

Selling large quan­ti­ties of olive oil in bulk, 17-liter tins, also does not help the organic olive oil mar­ket to reach its full poten­tial, in spite of the high-qual­ity advan­tage.

In order to be cer­tain and absolutely trust­wor­thy in what we pro­vide, we carry out much more strin­gent con­trols than the law requires.- Giorgos Tzianoudakis, man­ag­ing direc­tor of Cretanthos

Things are quite dif­fer­ent for healthy eaters abroad though. With the excep­tion of Italy and Spain, where the olive cul­ture is deeply rooted, olive oil and olives are gen­er­ally not geared to mass con­sump­tion. They are bought and enjoyed in small quan­ti­ties and pack­aged in small pack­ag­ing.

Those will­ing to pay the price dif­fer­ence are gen­er­ally con­sumers who are con­scious of the health ben­e­fits of the Mediterranean diet, which is gain­ing ground world­wide. For the healthy eaters the price dif­fer­ence of organic olive oil and olives is rel­a­tively small, as they are in any case con­sumed in very small quan­ti­ties as a nat­ural med­i­cine’ and also offer a unique culi­nary expe­ri­ence.

See Also:Organic Olive Oil

On a global scale, the organic food mar­ket has been thriv­ing and is no longer a niche mar­ket. Sales of organic foods in the European Union grew by 47 per­cent between 2012 and 2016. Its value now stands at €30 bil­lion ($34.3 bil­lion). The U.S. and Canadian mar­kets for organic foods rep­re­sent a total value of about €42 bil­lion ($48 bil­lion), while that of China stands at over €5 bil­lion ($5.72 bil­lion).

At the same time, the area of organic farm­land in the EU rose by 18.7 per­cent between 2012 and 2016, ris­ing from 24.7 mil­lion to 29.4 mil­lion acres.

Realizing it has strong poten­tial, Greek olive farm­ers have been switch­ing to organic olive farm­ing. Greece’s organic olive-grow­ing out­put has grown from 22,000 tons to 132,000 tons in five years, account­ing for an aver­age of 8.7 per­cent of the country’s total olives pro­duc­tion in the period from 2013 to 2017.

Moreover, experts esti­mate that there is poten­tial for growth in sales of the domes­tic mar­ket, given that the cur­rent turnover is at a very low level, which leaves room for fur­ther devel­op­ment.

To unlock the poten­tial of organic olive oil and olives, farm­ers of course need to be pre­pared to put in extra work, make a seri­ous finan­cial invest­ment upfront as well as be patient. The fact that olive farm­ing is rel­a­tively straight­for­ward is not enough to ensure suc­cess or sur­vival of the olive pro­ducer in a fast-paced inter­na­tional mar­ket.

Organic suits Greece

Greece has key advan­tages in the pro­duc­tion of organic olives. The olive tree is per­fectly adjusted to the Greek envi­ron­ment and holds few sur­prises for the pro­ducer.

Thanks to the right cli­mate and soil con­di­tions, the olive tree bears yields even in poor years and given proper care, har­vests are abun­dant. At the same time the model of organic pro­duc­tion is in line with the frac­tured small-scale pro­duc­tion typ­i­cal in Greece.

The fam­ily-run small busi­nesses that form the back­bone of Greek olive pro­duc­tion are in a bet­ter posi­tion to meet the needs of the organic rather than con­ven­tional olive oil, which requires a much larger scale of oper­a­tion.

Organic olive oil farm­ers can also explore and cap­ture the advan­tages offered by a great vari­ety of ter­roirs, which bring char­ac­ter and iden­tity that makes a prod­uct unique and able to claim a higher price on the shelf.

New entrants turn to exports

There is a con­di­tion to suc­cess for new entrants into the busi­nesses of organic olive oil. In order to secure a foothold, small enter­prises need to gear their sales to the export mar­kets even more so than traders of con­ven­tional olive oil.

The rea­son is that the reces­sion has hit the retail sec­tor of organic prod­ucts hard. Specialized stores deal­ing in bio-foods have down­sized their oper­a­tions, often choos­ing to cut out the pricier brands from their range of prod­ucts.


Terms of pay­ment have also taken a slide with delays in the pay­ment of pro­duc­ers. At the same time, the risk of clo­sure is also sig­nif­i­cant, which makes the busi­ness envi­ron­ment even more inse­cure.

On the con­trary, accord­ing to Giorgos Tzianoudakis, man­ag­ing direc­tor of Cretanthos, a com­pany that pro­duces and mar­kets organic and con­ven­tional olive oil, export sales are more sus­tain­able, pay­ments are reg­u­lar and orders can be planned six months ahead, which gives SMEs some breath­ing space.”

Strict chem­i­cal tri­als can be the cause of, rise or fall for an organic olive oil busi­ness.

In order to be cer­tain and absolutely trust­wor­thy in what we pro­vide, we carry out much more strin­gent con­trols than the law requires,” Tzianoudakis said. For exam­ple, while the legal thresh­old for the dura­tion of chem­i­cal tests is cur­rently at 12 months, we choose to ana­lyze sam­ples of the same lot every six months to make sure that our extra vir­gin organic olive oil is always within the lim­its of chem­i­cal thresh­olds.”

For a small busi­ness the chal­lenge of div­ing into a large and dynam­i­cally evolv­ing mar­ket, such as the mar­ket of organic olive oil, can be daunt­ing and requires a care­ful strat­egy.

We started out as a com­pany that dealt exclu­sively in organic olive oil, but in the process our cus­tomer asked us for addi­tional prod­ucts which would come in big­ger con­tain­ers and have a lower price,” Tzianoudakis said. To meet our customer’s needs we added con­ven­tional olive oil to our prod­ucts range. However, we esti­mate that the demand for small pack­ag­ing of organic oil in bot­tles of 100, 200 and 500 mil­li­liters will increase in the future and that’s why we choose to organ­i­cally cul­ti­vate all our land.”

Today only a part of our farms is cer­ti­fied as organic,” he added. When the time comes, we will be ready to cer­tify most of our pro­duc­tion as organic and increase the vol­ume of our export sales of bio­log­i­cal extra vir­gin olive oil.”


Related Articles