`A Conversation with Gennaro Pieralisi - Olive Oil Times

A Conversation with Gennaro Pieralisi

May. 23, 2010
Lucy Vivante

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Where there’s an olive, there’s Pieralisi” is the Gruppo Pieralisi’s motto. Olive oil extrac­tion equip­ment is the core busi­ness of this com­pany and it dom­i­nates the world mar­ket with a 60% share. The com­pany was founded in 1888 and con­tin­ues to be fam­ily-owned. Gennaro Pieralisi, referred to as l’Ingegnere, or the Engineer, by his employ­ees, is the com­pa­ny’s pres­i­dent and CEO. He is respon­si­ble for its huge growth, €180,000,000 ($225m) in sales in 2009, more than half of which is from olive oil sys­tems. Mr. Pieralisi agreed to talk with the Olive Oil Times and the visit takes place on 20 May 2010. The con­ver­sa­tion is in Italian, and the trans­la­tions are this reporter’s.

The com­pany has a large cam­pus of build­ings in Jesi’s indus­trial zone. Jesi is a small city, inland from Ancona and the Adriatic coast. Pieralisi’s build­ings are new and the head­quar­ters is spare and bril­liant white, with shiny sur­faces and glass. I don’t see many peo­ple other than the Ingegnere, but those I do see are glam­orous and casu­ally dressed younger peo­ple. The Ingegnere’s own office dif­fers from the rig­or­ously mod­ern design of the other offices and pub­lic spaces. His office is com­fort­able: wooden fur­ni­ture, paint­ings on the walls, papers and news­pa­pers stacked on his desk, and won­der­ful green walls. Walls the color of olives. The Ingegnere is friendly and forth­com­ing.
See Also: A Centrifugal Force: Gennaro Pieralisi
Centrifugal force is the key tech­nol­ogy in mod­ern olive oil pro­duc­tion. Force that is seven thou­sand times that of grav­ity is what spins and sep­a­rates the oil from the olive pulp, skin, and pit. There are numer­ous com­pa­nies try­ing to catch up with Pieralisi in the olive oil space. L’Ingegnere says We are the only ones mak­ing the full sys­tem, from wash­ing the olives, to crush­ing and knead­ing, to the cen­trifuges. There are multi-nation­als, strong com­pa­nies like Alfa-Laval, Flottweg, and Westfalia that make cen­trifuges for olive oil, but only the cen­trifuges. It is our tech­nol­ogy and all of them have copied us. Now, they’re even copy­ing our com­pany col­ors. I’m think­ing of chang­ing our col­ors.” (Gennaro Pieralisi is the author of more than thirty patents. Patent infringe­ment is dif­fi­cult to enforce, espe­cially across bor­ders.)

The Ingegnere says that those who use a hybrid sys­tem, with cen­trifuges from one of the indus­trial giants and indi­vid­ual com­po­nents, risk not know­ing where the fault lies if the sys­tem breaks down, whereas if they have a Pieralisi sys­tem, if the machine breaks down, Pieralisi takes full respon­si­bil­ity and will fix it. He has ser­vice teams of 20 — 30 peo­ple located in all major olive oil pro­duc­ing regions. These are the peo­ple who pick the machin­ery up at the port, deliver and assem­ble the sys­tem for cus­tomers, spend a few days teach­ing them how to use it, and make repairs when nec­es­sary. Each of the ser­vice loca­tions has an inven­tory of replace­ment parts for repairs. Recent mod­els are wired so that if there is a prob­lem, Pieralisi ser­vice peo­ple can diag­nose remotely, from Jesi or any­where else, what the mal­func­tion is. From there they can give direc­tions to the client on the fix or send out ser­vice peo­ple with the appro­pri­ate parts.

There are Italian com­pa­nies, like Officine Meccaniche Toscane and Rapanelli who make full olive oil milling sys­tems, but they’re much smaller, what he calls pic­co­l­ine, pic­co­l­ine.” When I men­tion the home olive oil equip­ment, such as Oliomio pro­duced in Australia, he says They’re toys.” He makes pro machines. The Molinetto is the Pieralisi’s entry sys­tem. I ask him how much it costs, and he gets on the tele­phone for the price. A minute later, he has the answer, the Molinetto costs €29,000 ($36,250). The largest machines, of course, cost a great deal more than that, but the Ingegnere declines to spec­ify.

Much of the con­ver­sa­tion cen­ters on Spain because that coun­try pro­duces nearly half of the world’s olive oil. Pieralisi says of south­ern Spain:

If you go to Andalusia you see a sea of olive trees, all the hills are cov­ered with olive trees. You can travel 200 kilo­me­ters and to the left and to the right, you’ll see noth­ing but olive trees. It’s a mar­velous sight. Now is the flow­er­ing sea­son in Spain’s olive coun­try and the amount of pollen these trees pro­duce is very high, so high that some peo­ple suf­fer from aller­gies, and you hear on the radio, every half hour, announce­ments about the per­cent­age of pollen in the air. If the pollen gets to an unsafe level, the announcer rec­om­mends that those who are suf­fer­ing from asthma go towards the sea. When you drive down the roads, you see pollen trans­ported by the wind, the pollen swept down the roads, like snow, flour-like snow.”

Gennaro Pieralisi grad­u­ated with a degree in mechan­i­cal engi­neer­ing in 1965 from the University of Pisa. The fol­low­ing year, he went to Spain and set up a joint ven­ture with Spanish investors to sell olive oil mak­ing equip­ment. It was an early, and very smart, entrance in what would become a huge mar­ket for Pieralisi. Interestingly, the Ingengnere says that it was only 25 years ago that the Spanish went into extra-vir­gin olive oil, before that it was mostly lam­pante oil, an ined­i­ble grade of oil. Most of Spain’s olive oil, about 80%, is pro­duced by coop­er­a­tives. They are very pow­er­ful enti­ties, often with their own banks. If the Molinetto, the entry sys­tem can process 6,000 kilos of olives in a twenty-four hour day, the ones Pieralisi sells to the Spanish coop­er­a­tives can process 100,000 kilos in 24 hours. Typically they will have 10 lines run­ning at the same loca­tion, pro­cess­ing an amaz­ing 1,000,000 kilos.

The Gruppo Pieralisi sells in all the coun­tries in the world that pro­duce olive oil, in the north­ern hemi­sphere those are coun­tries between the 30 and 45th par­al­lel, the band with the right cli­mate con­di­tions. Just recently four olive oil extrac­tion sys­tems were sold to cus­tomers in China. He says that the olive oil grow­ing is in expan­sion, but it’s a slow expan­sion since it takes four years before the trees bear suf­fi­cient fruit, unlike other agri­cul­tural crops, which take six months or so, and can be planted, or not, depend­ing on the mar­ket. Olive trees require a com­mit­ment of years. In the south­ern hemi­sphere, Australia and New Zealand, Chile and Brazil are rel­a­tively new entrants in the pro­duc­tion of olives and good cus­tomers. Angola is con­sid­er­ing plant­ing olive trees.

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