`Olisur's Alfonso Swett: Chile will be a "Major Olive Oil Player"

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Olisur's Alfonso Swett: Chile will be a "Major Olive Oil Player"

Oct. 27, 2010
Marianne Graff

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By Mar­i­anne Graff | Report­ing from Val­paraíso, Chile

There was no hes­i­ta­tion when Alfonso Swett, founder of Olisur, listed his company’s goals: To pro­duce an excel­lent olive oil, fresh, new and high qual­ity. That tastes good. An oil that is accepted world­wide.” In order to reach these goals Swett and his team at Olisur, a 5‑year old olive oil com­pany based in San­ti­ago, have mas­tered a process of har­vest­ing olives at the peak of ripeness and pro­cess­ing them into extra vir­gin olive oil at their on-site mill within four hours (or less), cap­tur­ing the fruit’s full, fresh flavour.

Taste is of ulti­mate impor­tance to Swett, and the dri­ving moti­va­tion behind the meth­ods adopted by Olisur. With awards from inter­na­tional olive oil com­pe­ti­tions
in Canada, China, the USA and Italy over the past 3 years, it’s clear the approach
Olisur has taken is work­ing well.

Olisur is an estate olive grove 80 km south of San­ti­ago, Chile, nes­tled between the Andes and the sea, in an area famous for its Mediter­ranean-like cli­mate. The com­pany uses a mod­ern approach to a tra­di­tional indus­try, with high-den­sity plant­i­ngs, sus­tain­able farm­ing prac­tices, mechan­i­cal har­vest­ing and imme­di­ate pro­cess­ing in a state-of-the-art mill located nearby. Olisur mar­kets ten dif­fer­ent high qual­ity, low-acid­ity olive oils, sold at com­pet­i­tive prices.

The dense plant­ing of 900 plants per acre allows Olisur to achieve high yields from their newly planted 2,400 acres. This approach to plant­ing is a dra­matic change from tra­di­tional olive farm­ing, which involves groves of tall trees har­vested by gen­tly shak­ing the olives into nets or pluck­ing them by hand. In Olisur’s high den­sity groves, the trees are much
shorter, and there­fore eas­ier to har­vest using mechan­i­cal means.

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The change in plant­ing meth­ods has proven extremely eco­nom­i­cal and effec­tive. Last year Olisur pro­duced 1.8 mil­lion litres of pre­mium extra vir­gin olive oil. And this is just the begin­ning; the com­pany has plans to plant 3000 more high-den­sity acres in the next few years.

The Olisur team has devel­oped a process that allows them to make fresh olive oil within 4 hours — usu­ally closer to 2 hours — of har­vest­ing. As a result of quickly har­vest­ing at the peak of ripeness, the oil acid­ity in the result­ing oil is low, just .2% (far below the max­i­mum per­mis­si­ble acid­ity level of .8% for clas­si­fi­ca­tion as extra vir­gin olive oil).

This suc­cess rate is all the more impor­tant con­sid­er­ing that Olisur is a new­comer to the olive oil scene. Olisur founder Alfonso Swett became
inter­ested in the olive oil busi­ness in 2001, after feel­ing inspired by a trip
to Spain. By tap­ping into the expert advice of top soil spe­cial­ists, he soon real­ized the grow­ing con­di­tions for olives in Chile were as favor­able as found in the Mediter­ranean areas. And so the dream ripened into real­ity; Olisur was offi­cially founded in 2005.

An entre­pre­neur since the 60’s, Swett brought his exten­sive expe­ri­ence with indus­trial export busi­ness gleaned through years of berry farm­ing in South Chile, and an inter­est in mod­ern, sus­tain­able meth­ods to his new olive oil enter­prise.

Swett says he’s very happy with with the progress Olisur has made to date, and pleased that they have suc­cess­fully attained so many of their orig­i­nal busi­ness plan inten­tions. They are poised to expand into new
mar­kets in the com­ing years. With 3,000 more acres in the pipeline, com­bined with a track record of con­sis­tently high qual­ity, award-win­ning extra vir­gin olive oils at mid-range prices, Olisur’s capac­ity for export growth seems assured.

Almost all of the olive oil cur­rently pro­duced by Olisur (99%) is exported to Canada and the United States, with a promis­ing sales start in Japan­ese mar­kets. While happy with their cur­rent progress and prod­ucts, Swett has his eye on new mar­kets. I think the olive oil indus­try is grow­ing, as it should. Olive oil should be the only oil humans con­sume. Thou­sands of years and all the stud­ies show the nutri­tional value of olive oil” Swett told Olive Oil Times. Once peo­ple real­ize the impor­tance of their health, they will use only olive oil, and enjoy the flavour.”

Achiev­ing higher vol­ume sales isn’t Swett’s only guid­ing busi­ness phi­los­o­phy. We must pro­duce for other coun­tries, and they request sus­tain­abil­ity”, Swett explains when asked what has inspired his avant-garde busi­ness phi­los­o­phy and facil­i­ties. One exam­ple of their sus­tain­able prac­tices is the grind­ing of pulp and olive pits to make fer­til­izer that is reap­plied to the soil after har­vest­ing, reju­ve­nat­ing the soil while cre­at­ing more work and jobs. The much pub­li­cized state-of-the-art and effi­cient build­ings on the estate are fur­ther evi­dence of a com­mit­ment to social and envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity prac­tices.

In gen­eral, Swett says he feels pos­i­tive about the olive oil indus­try in Chile, and with the qual­ity of prod­ucts made by new pro­duc­ers in the region. Despite the fact that Chilean olive oil pro­duc­ers have not had a sig­nif­i­cant track record prior to the year 2000, he believes the recent increases in invest­ment lev­els in Chilean olive oil com­pa­nies will change that. Chilean olive oil will be a major player in the future” Swett boldly states, adding that he believes that the many Chilean olive oil pro­duc­ers have invested the right amount to achieve high qual­ity results.

When asked about his favourite olive oil vari­ety, Swett chuck­les and says he loves them all, and all the prod­ucts he has ever pro­duced. Oth­er­wise he wouldn’t be in the busi­ness, moti­vated to cre­ate such a suc­cess­ful olive oil enter­prise, adapt­ing new approaches to olive oil pro­duc­tion that are noth­ing short of an indus­try rev­o­lu­tion. And by doing so, Swett has shown he has a tal­ent for bring­ing his dreams to real­ity and the abil­ity to ripen an idea as his olives, while serv­ing as an inspi­ra­tion for oth­ers in the indus­try.

Olisur’s awards to date:
2009 Flos Olei 2010 (Italy) — Best in Olive Oil, Light Fruit Category
2009 Concurso L’Orciolo D’Oro (Italy) – Gold Medal, Light Fruit
2008 Concurso L’Orciolo D’Oro (Italy) – Honorable Mention, Medium Fruit
2008 Los Angeles International (U.S.A.) – Gold Medal, Bronze Medal
2008 3rd Olive Oil Competition (China) – Honorable Mention — Light
2008 Olive D’Or (Montreal, Canada) — Bronze Medal

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