`Nikos Zachariadis, Agricultural Cooperative of Kritsa - Olive Oil Times

Nikos Zachariadis, Agricultural Cooperative of Kritsa

Jan. 20, 2011
Elena Paravantes

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Many have called it the best in the world, yet until a few years ago the deli­cious extra vir­gin olive oil from these rugged Cretan hill­sides was vir­tu­ally unknown, that is until Nikos Zachariadis came into the picture.

Zachariadis is the chair­man of the Agricultural Cooperative of Kritsa (ACK), a co-op that has as its mem­bers over 900 expe­ri­enced olive oil pro­duc­ers. All of them are from the area of Kritsa, a vil­lage in Crete that is home to some of the old­est olive trees in Greece.

Producers of Kritsa have an almost reli­gious devo­tion to their olive pro­duc­tion- Nikos Zachariadis

Today the qual­ity of this olive oil is rec­og­nized inter­na­tion­ally. It has won numer­ous awards most notably the first prize in the IOC 2008 Mario Solinas Awards. The prime min­is­ter of Greece, George Papandreou was so impressed that he paid a spe­cial visit to the facil­i­ties of the coop­er­a­tive, while jour­nal­ists and nutri­tion pro­fes­sion­als flock from all over the world to visit the co-op and taste the exquis­ite olive oil. When asked about the suc­cess of the olive oil from the coop­er­a­tive, Zachariadis can­didly replies The olive oil pro­duc­ers of Kritsa have an almost reli­gious devo­tion to their olive pro­duc­tion, we have a good coop­er­a­tive, effec­tive man­age­ment with a vision, and of course a good product”.

Zachariadis describes the inno­v­a­tive mode of pro­duc­tion. All the res­i­dents of Kritsa are part­ners at the co-op, and we apply the com­mon grind­ing of the olives,” he says. However, the key to qual­ity is the tim­ing. The olives are ground together shortly after they have been picked, and this has the advan­tage that the olives do not sit in stor­age for pro­longed peri­ods of time which may result in higher acid­ity as well as loss of other char­ac­ter­is­tics,” he points out. He also attrib­utes the fine qual­ity of the oil to the ideal soil and micro­cli­mate of the area the dry and warm envi­ron­ment with high lev­els of sun­light con­tribute to the cor­rect devel­op­ment of the olive tree,” he adds.

But is it enough to have a suc­cess­ful prod­uct? It helps, but no, accord­ing to Zachariadis. You need good man­age­ment, a vision, a drive and a good prod­uct,” he points out. Until 2005 this award-win­ning olive oil was sold in plain metal cans and other con­tain­ers with no labels to the locals. This is a com­mon prac­tice in Greece and as a result many good olive oils may never enjoy the recog­ni­tion that they deserve. Zachariadis felt that sell­ing such a superb prod­uct in this way was crim­i­nal. I believe that a good thing should be treated well,” he empha­sizes, and com­pares a good olive oilto a pre­cious piece of jew­elry. If a piece of jew­elry is neglected and hid­den, even if it is valu­able nobody will acknowl­edge it. Once you pack­age it and present it in an attrac­tive man­ner, it auto­mat­i­cally acquires value and gains recog­ni­tion,” Zachariadis observes. And this is the train of thought that he had when he first real­ized the value of this under­es­ti­mated olive oil of his birthplace.

Although the prod­uct is regarded as one of the best olive oils in the world, Zachariadis believes that it is under­val­ued in terms of price. There is a con­fu­sion among cus­tomers as to the dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties of extra vir­gin olive oil. For exam­ple our olive oil is cold pressed which means that we grind the olives at a tem­per­a­ture between 26 and 28 degrees cel­sius, any­thing above that is destruc­tive,” he explains. It is in the dis­cre­tion of the pro­ducer whether high or low tem­per­a­tures are used dur­ing the pro­cess­ing of the olives. When you grind at a higher tem­per­a­ture the qual­ity of the oil is affected neg­a­tively, but yet both types of oils have a sim­i­lar price,” he concludes.

Zachariadis men­tions the recent effort of top qual­ity olive oil pro­duc­ers from around the world to develop a new cat­e­gory of olive oil. We par­tic­i­pated in a con­fer­ence orga­nized by UC Davis with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of sev­eral high qual­ity pro­duc­ers from Italy, Spain, and California in an attempt to rede­fine the ideal for the per­fect olive oil and cre­ate a new cat­e­gory, the super extra vir­gin olive oil,” he says.

Zachariadis became pres­i­dent of the coop­er­a­tive in 2005. His suc­cess can be attrib­uted to a man­age­ment and lead­er­ship style that he attained from his pre­vi­ous career in the mil­i­tary. When I returned to my birth­place and became involved with the coop­er­a­tive, I had a cer­tain vision for pro­mot­ing this supe­rior olive oil,” he says proudly. After that, he took some strate­gic steps, which even­tu­ally lead to world­wide recog­ni­tion of the oil. We acted with inno­va­tion. I met with the pres­i­dent of Gaea an inter­na­tion­ally-known pri­vate com­pany which sells and pro­duces qual­ity Greek agri­cul­tural prod­ucts. We devel­oped a new com­pany Kritsa-Gaea. This was the first time a Greek agri­cul­tural coop­er­a­tive col­lab­o­rated with a pri­vate com­pany,” Zachariadis explains. From then on devel­op­ment exploded. Because of this part­ner­ship, and the net­work Gaea pro­vided us, we were able to develop and spread not only out­side of Crete but also out­side of Greece,” he notes. Now 70% of the olive oil from Kritsa is being exported to coun­tries all over the world such as the UK, US and Germany, it is used in all the Greek air­ports, and it will even be used in the kitchens at Disneyland.

While he is proud of the world­wide recog­ni­tion the olive oil of Kritsa has achieved, he can­not hide his dis­ap­point­ment with the lack of pro­mo­tion and acknowl­edg­ment in Greece. Governmental con­tri­bu­tion is min­i­mal in terms of its sup­port and pro­mo­tion of olive oil as a national prod­uct. When we were awarded these inter­na­tional prizes, the min­istry was not even aware of it. In fact even though CNN and Times mag­a­zine men­tioned these awards, there was noth­ing in the Greek media,” Zachariadis sadly admits. However he is pos­i­tive about the future and pleased with recent devel­op­ments. We have had 2 meet­ings with the new min­is­ter of Regional Development and Competitiveness, and the new gov­ern­ment has shown a real inter­est in our com­pany,” he adds.

Zachariadis states that they are still at the begin­ning of devel­op­ment. The first prize back in 2008 was just a tool to push us in the right direc­tion,” he notes. His future plans are not grandiose, but sim­ple and hon­est. Our main objec­tive is to have all the oil that comes out of the coop­er­a­tive pack­aged and labeled, while guar­an­tee­ing a good price for the pro­duc­ers,” he says. And as for the qual­ity, it will only get bet­ter. Zachariadis believes that once the bar has been raised, there are cer­tain expec­ta­tions and there­fore the olive oil has to be flaw­less, and with Zachariadis in charge that’s a safe bet.

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