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.
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.