`Panagiotis Karantonis: Greek Olive Oil Must Build On Quality - Olive Oil Times

Panagiotis Karantonis: Greek Olive Oil Must Build On Quality

Jan. 30, 2011
Marissa Tejada

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It is a fierce jun­gle.”

This is the vivid way Panagiotis Karantonis describes the indus­try he has fol­lowed for more than 25 years. He is the gen­eral man­ager of the Greek asso­ci­a­tion of olive oil man­u­fac­tur­ers known as ESVITE, an orga­ni­za­tion that pro­motes the inter­ests of small and medium Greek olive oil com­pa­nies. For its fifty plus mem­bers, the com­pe­ti­tion from abroad remains tough.

We can­not push the price lower because we are at our lim­its.- Panagiotis Karantonis, ESVITE

The fact remains that Greece is num­ber three behind Italy and Spain in olive oil pro­duc­tion. Knowing this, the mem­bers of ESVITE must find effec­tive ways to remain com­pet­i­tive with the goal to increase exports in key mar­kets. To get there, we all have to work together and over­come some unique chal­lenges.” Unique chal­lenges that Karantonis has pas­sion­ately con­fronted.

When you are involved with olive oil, you fall in love with it. You start under­stand­ing its qual­ity, its vari­ety and then its aro­mas and tastes. It’s not oranges or apples, but real love. Especially for Greeks, olive oil is part of our cul­ture, it’s real spe­cial.”

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After com­plet­ing two master’s degrees at the London School of Economics, Karantonis returned to Greece in the mid 1980s, work­ing briefly in the pri­vate sec­tor for a multi­na­tional food cor­po­ra­tion before he tran­si­tioned into the pub­lic sec­tor work­ing on food pol­icy at the Greek Ministry of Agriculture. He then took on a lead­ing role with ESVITE when it was founded in 1986.

Today, ESVITE has grown to include some larger com­pa­nies among its mem­ber­ship that either own mills or are involved in trad­ing and pack­ing extra vir­gin olive oil. They work closely with SEVITEL, another Greek olive oil orga­ni­za­tion con­sist­ing of larger olive oil com­pa­nies that also aim to pro­mote the inter­ests of the Greek olive oil indus­try. Together they play a key role in the 300,000 tons of olive oil pro­duced in Greece each year, one-third of which is con­sumed by Greeks them­selves. Just how effec­tively the sig­nif­i­cant sur­plus is sold abroad is one of ESVITE’s great­est chal­lenges, says Karantonis.

If we are talk­ing about a price ori­ented mar­ket, Greece wouldn’t have a chance to sur­vive as an olive oil pro­duc­ing coun­try.” He says one impor­tant rea­son is that the aver­age size of the Greek olive grove is rel­a­tively small with a typ­i­cally unleveled land struc­ture. As a result, mech­a­nized meth­ods for cul­ti­va­tion are dif­fi­cult, result­ing in greater pro­duc­tion cost com­pared to other coun­tries.

We can­not push the price lower than it is because we are at our lim­its. We need to con­cen­trate on some­thing other than price and that means push­ing through, with a national effort, a well-imple­mented plan that has con­sis­tency and con­ti­nu­ity,” he says.

Karantonis says that national effort means mar­ket­ing Greece’s most impor­tant advan­tage. An asset he believes can over­come the cost increase Greece’s oil pro­duc­tion demands. We pro­duce 80 per­cent extra vir­gin olive oil. This is unique world wide. Our advan­tage is sim­ply: qual­ity. We can only build upon our qual­ity. We aim to inform and con­vince con­sumers about the supe­ri­or­ity of our prod­ucts”

Karantonis says the poten­tial mar­ket for packed prod­uct out­side of Spain, Greece and Italy world wide is 700,000 tons. If Greece could get a 15 per­cent share of this mar­ket… it means at once that Greece could export 100,000 tons of packed prod­uct. That is a big step in the right direc­tion to get our sur­plus sold.”

Karantonis says there is a low aware­ness of Greece’s excel­lent qual­ity olive oils, due to lack of aggres­sive mar­ket­ing. We did very lit­tle in the past, espe­cially at the appro­pri­ate time. The key to change is bet­ter mar­ket­ing because there is great room for improve­ment in some of the tar­get mar­kets.”

He dis­ap­point­ingly notes that share fig­ures can drop as low as near zero per­cent in some key mar­kets. He cites Japan as a good exam­ple of dis­mal results. Out of the 30,000-ton mar­ket there, Greece may sell 100 – 200 tons a year.

Maybe it is ego­is­tic to say we pro­duce the best qual­ity olive oil but peo­ple who know olive oil and know the indus­try would agree with this. After all, Italians know why they buy Greek olive oil. They wouldn’t if it were not the best. Karantonis says Greek olive oil holds excep­tional organolep­tic prop­er­ties that he says need to be bet­ter empha­sized by his orga­ni­za­tion.

I love what I do. It’s such a spe­cial prod­uct for Greece so over the past quar­ter of a cen­tury ESVITE has worked hard to do more to sell Greek olive oil abroad, to give it the stand­ing it deserves. We could do so much more still. I believe we will.”

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