Thessaloniki Conference Examines New Strategies for Greek Table Olive Sector

A meeting on the Greek table olive industry offered new strategies for the sector and revealed a mostly unknown and resilient cultivar with unique qualities.

Jun. 6, 2018
By Costas Vasilopoulos

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A con­ven­tion held in Thessaloniki last week exam­ined the cur­rent sta­tus and pre­sented the trends in the edi­ble olives indus­try, focus­ing mostly on the Greek olive sec­tor.

It was reaf­firmed that Greek table olives occupy a lead­ing posi­tion in inter­na­tional mar­kets, but new approaches are required to main­tain the momen­tum and to cope with the com­pe­ti­tion. An announce­ment from researchers that drew a lot of atten­tion was about a not very pop­u­lar olive cul­ti­var with spe­cial char­ac­ter­is­tics and traits.

The two-day event was orga­nized by the Krinos Olive Center of the Perrotis College and was hosted at the cam­pus of the American Farm School. More than 250 pro­duc­ers, exporters, sci­en­tists, and other pro­fes­sion­als of the table olives indus­try attended the con­ven­tion to share their views.

Alexandros Georgiadis, pres­i­dent of the orga­niz­ing com­mit­tee and a food importer in America and Canada, said that the mar­kets world­wide want a con­stant sup­ply in qual­ity and quan­tity and there is no room for price spec­u­la­tion with table olives as it has hap­pened with olive oil. The olives of the Chalkidiki vari­ety have made big progress, exactly because pro­duc­ers have reacted prop­erly to the demands of the mar­kets,” he noted.

José Manuel Ruiz, sales man­ager of Interoliva S.A., reminded every­one that dur­ing the last 35 years the global pro­duc­tion of table olives has increased three-fold in vol­ume, and this is a proof of the product’s dynam­ics. Greece ranks fourth in the world in table olives exports, after Spain, Egypt, and Morocco, with more than 80 per­cent of the 250,000 tons of edi­ble olives that are pro­duced every year being exported to the US, Germany, Australia and else­where.

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Another sub­ject of the agenda was cov­ered by Dan Flynn, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the UC Davis Olive Center, who pre­sented the pos­si­ble effects of cli­mate change on table olives. He stated that a rise of 1.8°C to 2.0°C is expected in the Mediterranean Basin in the next 20 to 40 years, pos­ing a sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge to Greek farm­ers.

Flynn explained that the pre­dic­tion mod­els have shown that the large cul­ti­va­tions of table olives will prob­a­bly stay intact and 23 per­cent of the small cul­ti­va­tions in the coun­try will be affected, par­tic­u­larly those that are not irri­gated. He advised that irri­ga­tion must be prop­erly man­aged to achieve bet­ter yields.

The value of Greek table olive exports is cal­cu­lated at €450 mil­lion (approx­i­mately $525 mil­lion), but there is room for more; sev­eral par­tic­i­pants pointed out that a shift in the mind­set of the pro­duc­ers to present their cus­tomers not with a sim­ple prod­uct but with some­thing that is both attrac­tive and eas­ily acces­si­ble will fur­ther strengthen the sta­tus of Greek olives and grow their share in inter­na­tional mar­kets.

To demon­strate this change in think­ing the US mar­ket was exam­ined, where imports of table olives are sta­ble but con­sump­tion is declin­ing. The house­hold pen­e­tra­tion of olives is low, espe­cially in cer­tain demo­graphic groups of the coun­try.

It was sug­gested that olives should be aligned with the spe­cial cat­e­gory of foods that bear health claims. A num­ber of stud­ies have demon­strated that there are ben­e­fits from eat­ing olives due to their func­tional com­pounds and, as the sci­en­tists marked in the con­ven­tion, table olives are one of the few fer­mented plant prod­ucts that can carry pro­bi­otic bac­te­ria.

This clas­si­fi­ca­tion of olives will in turn appeal to the Millennials, who are the biggest con­sumer group of food prod­ucts with a health claim, so they can be tar­geted as poten­tial buy­ers of table olives. Another step is to chan­nel olives online to dif­fer­ent des­ti­na­tions to achieve pen­e­tra­tion and be within arm’s reach for con­sumers.

Kalamata table olives rep­re­sent a strong brand name in the sec­tor and Chalkidiki olives are mak­ing steps for­ward, but another cul­ti­var, Kothreiki, was the show­stop­per of the con­ven­tion.

The trees of Kothreiki, which is also known as Manaki or Korinthiaki, can be grown at alti­tudes up to 900 meters and are able to with­stand strong winds and rel­a­tively low tem­per­a­tures. Their dru­pes can be used as edi­ble olives or they can be processed in mills for oil.

A three-year research done by two Greek sci­en­tists ana­lyzed the olives of the Kothreiki cul­ti­var and they were found to con­tain a sig­nif­i­cant amount of phe­no­lic com­pounds and an unusu­ally high quan­tity of palmi­toleic acid, mea­sur­ing to more than 3.5 grams per 100 grams of fatty acids. Palmitoleic acid is a monoun­sat­u­rated fatty acid which is con­sid­ered ben­e­fi­cial for dia­bet­ics due to its reg­u­la­tory effect on glu­cose and on the accep­tance of the intake of insulin.

The idea was floated that the Kothreiki cul­ti­var could carry a health claim for dia­bet­ics if and when the research is com­pleted and the results are ver­i­fied.

The Krinos Olive Centre was founded in 2013 to sup­port the pro­duc­tion of edi­ble olives and olive oil in Greece. It has estab­lished part­ner­ships with research insti­tutes and com­pa­nies of the sec­tor includ­ing the Davis Olive Center.

This was the first con­ven­tion orga­nized by Krinos on the inno­va­tions of the table olive sec­tor and par­tic­i­pants pledged to meet again in Thessaloniki in 2020.





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