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China Exhibition Focuses on Olive Oil

May. 17, 2010
Liz Tagami

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Olive oil, espe­cially cer­ti­fied extra vir­gin olive oil, is grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity in the US and other non-Mediterranean coun­tries, but did you know that its use is also mak­ing strong gains in the People’s Republic of China?

The 6th annual Oil China Exhibition held in Shanghai 24 – 26 April 2010 on the eve of the World Expo was well attended by buy­ers from all of the major mar­kets of China. Thousands of trade and indus­try peo­ple attended the event – mostly from the tier one cities of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou — but also from areas as remote as Ningxia, a sparsely pop­u­lated province near Inner Mongolia, where one dis­trib­u­tor I worked with was look­ing for extra vir­gin olive oil for the local Islamic population.

Oil China is the only pro­fes­sional inter­na­tional trade show here devoted to edi­ble oils”, and although one is able to find corn and camel­lia oil for sale, olive oil of var­i­ous grades from pomace and pure to EVOO really dom­i­nates the show. Food for health is a pri­mary con­sid­er­a­tion for Chinese buy­ers, and extra vir­gin olive oil’s key role in the Mediterranean diet holds strong appeal for aspi­ra­tional Chinese consumers.

The open­ing cer­e­mony with VIP speak­ers, a rib­bon cut­ting, and the pre­sen­ta­tion of awards was held out­side of the east wing of the his­toric Shanghai Exhibition Center in Puxi. Results for the 5th Annual Oil China Competition were announced, and prizes were awarded for top oils in four cat­e­gories: intense, medium, light, and organic.

Italy and Spain tied with two gold medals each: Italy’s Frantoio Franci win­ning for Intense and Azienda Fontanasalsa di Burgarella for Light; Spain’s NAYVE for Medium and Almazaras de la Subbetica for Organic. Producers from Australia, Portugal, France, Chile, and Greece also dis­tin­guished them­selves with medals and hon­or­able men­tions in this competition.

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As we entered the exhi­bi­tion there was a large ban­ner announc­ing the Tunisian Olive Oil So Tasty, So Healthy” mar­ket­ing cam­paign and sev­eral boards announc­ing var­i­ous events, some of which included a dis­cus­sion on national olive oil stan­dards for China, a forum on trends in oil, and var­i­ous national press con­fer­ences and demon­stra­tions from Spain, Italy, Greece, and Tunisia to name just some of the activities.

The Greek pavil­ion was very busy and one item which gar­nered a lot of atten­tion was a mod­ern bot­tle with a boldly ren­dered 0.3%” on the label, indi­cat­ing a low acid­ity. Will the FFA per­cent on olive oil labels labels be as preva­lent as the cocoa per­cent­age on choco­late bar pack­ag­ing a few years ago? While we can’t be cer­tain, sev­eral buy­ers I worked with specif­i­cally requested 0.5% or lower, not will­ing to con­sider the IOC stan­dard of 0.8% in their requests for quotations.

Another trend was olive oil in dec­o­ra­tive tins or in dec­o­ra­tive tubes ready for gift giv­ing, which accounts for nearly 40% of olive oil sales accord­ing to the organizers.

Celebrity Chef Rafik Tlatli was sta­tioned in front of the Tunisian pavil­ion in tra­di­tional white toque and chef’s coat and exe­cuted hourly demon­stra­tions. The kitchen was set up to face vis­i­tors as they entered the area, and Chef Tlalti used a wok and tra­di­tional Chinese stir fry tech­niques with Tunisian ingre­di­ents to charm and woo prospec­tive buy­ers. One dish with shell­fish was par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar, and crowds eagerly took pho­tos and sam­ples of the food.

I spoke with sev­eral buy­ers over the course of the exhi­bi­tion and received the feed­back that the demon­stra­tions through­out the exhi­bi­tion area did a lot for them in terms of under­stand­ing how extra vir­gin olive oil could be used in cook­ing Chinese food.

In addi­tion to pavil­ions from Greece, Portugal and Tunisia, grow­ers from Australia turned out with a col­lec­tion of stands adja­cent to one another, and the President of the Australian Olive Association, Paul Miller, was in atten­dance to show his support.

According to the exhibition’s orga­niz­ers over 200 brands of olive oil are avail­able in China today, nearly 100% of it imported from Spain, Greece, Italy, Turkey, Tunisia, Portugal, Jordan, Australia and Syria, much of it pur­chased bulk for rebot­tling in China. Annual con­sump­tion con­tin­ues to increase at nearly 60% per year as con­sumers switch from seed and veg­etable oils to var­i­ous grades of olive oil or vegetable/olive oil blends.

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