`SEVITEL: Unveiling Greek Olive Oil Abroad - Olive Oil Times

SEVITEL: Unveiling Greek Olive Oil Abroad

Jul. 5, 2010
Marissa Tejada

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Standing behind their country’s num­ber one agri­cul­tural export, the mem­bers of the Greek Association of Industries & Processors of Olive Oil, known as SEVITEL, know they rep­re­sent one of the most impor­tant busi­ness inter­ests in Greece. A key part of the Greek cul­ture, olive oil is entrenched in ancient Greek his­tory and today is used in every­day mod­ern cook­ing. SEVITEL’s mem­bers’ main chal­lenge is to work together to com­mu­ni­cate abroad that Greek olive oils have spe­cial qual­i­ties and ben­e­fits like no other. It is a key vision for the non-profit orga­ni­za­tion, since 85 per­cent of the packed oil that is sold in the Greek mar­ket and inter­na­tion­ally, comes right from Sevitel’s 53 mem­bers.

Once you get involved with olive oil I think it starts cir­cu­lat­ing in your veins.”

Gregory Antoniadis, SEVITEL’s pres­i­dent for the past seven years, says his first job in the Greek food indus­try began as an olive oil buyer for Unilever more than 25 years ago. He has climbed the ranks since then, cur­rently serv­ing as that company’s Communications & Media Director.

For us Greeks, olive oil is an impor­tant part of our cul­ture, in our his­tory, reli­gion, every­where. We also have the high­est per capita con­sump­tion on earth at 14 kilos per head, babies included,” he says with a smile.

Even with a rich his­tory sur­round­ing the use of olive oil, Greece remains the third in size pro­ducer behind Italy and Spain which is cur­rently the world’s lead­ing exporter of extra vir­gin olive oil. We may be third but we pro­duce pro­por­tion­ately higher qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duced at 75 per­cent while Italy and Span have much less per­cent­ages. Our draw­back is that we have higher costs but that’s because we invest in qual­ity. At SEVITEL, we aim to com­mu­ni­cate this spe­cial qual­ity to the world.”

Antoniadis says SEVITEL’s efforts are chal­leng­ing given Greece’s slower start in pro­duc­ing and mar­ket­ing olive oil com­pared to the other top olive oil pro­duc­ing nations.

He says Italy, which is the sec­ond largest pro­ducer of olive oil, had their first branded prod­uct in 1860 as Italian immi­grants opened up gro­ceries and sold their first bot­tles. However, Greece’s first national brands appeared a cen­tury later, in the 1960s and 1970s.

Spain, with its exten­sive cul­ti­va­tion and mech­a­niza­tion has enabled it to become the world’s biggest pro­ducer and exporter of olive oil. However, inten­sive cul­ti­va­tion is pre­ferred in Greece and accord­ing to Antoniadis, a Greek farmer may need more time to pro­duce their oil but in the end, he pro­duces olive oils of bet­ter qual­ity.

Gregory Antoniadis

As a result of the way olive oil is typ­i­cally pro­duced and mar­keted, the pres­ence of Greek brand-name olive oil on the inter­na­tional mar­ket had been min­i­mal for many years. For the aver­age con­sumer, branded Greek olive oil wasn’t as sim­ple to find as Italian and Spanish olive oils.

We have always been the advo­cates of mar­ket growth. The major chal­lenge for Greece is to expand the mar­kets exter­nally and inter­nally,” explains Antoniadis. What we are under­go­ing is a crash course of under­stand­ing things in an abrupt way, espe­cially in this cri­sis. We ana­lyzed the past and know what needs to be done for the future. There is no room for more debate.”

As a result, Antoniadis says a major achieve­ment for SEVITEL, was the growth of Greek olive oil exports by 40 to 45 per­cent over the past four years.

Knowing that we started from a low base, we are being real­is­tic about our expec­ta­tions but growth is impor­tant and we are on the right track. We still must step up our mar­ket­ing since few prod­ucts are out there like olive oil, which has great poten­tial for quick growth.”

He says a fac­tor to that growth is the ris­ing pop­u­lar­ity of the health ben­e­fits asso­ci­ated with the Mediterranean diet, of which olive oil is a key ingre­di­ent. He says once the pub­lic is more aware of the spe­cial nature and vari­ety of Greek olive oil, more con­sumers seek­ing value will make the choice towards Greek brands.

Antoniadis say the future of Greek olive oil is also in the taste. It’s not just about con­vinc­ing peo­ple that it’s healthy but that it is also tasty.”

We need to cap­i­tal­ize on the qual­ity of Greek olive oil. We are export­ing half of our pro­duc­tion abroad in bulk of course, not branded, and it’s been used by oth­ers which is under­stand­able since this is how inter­na­tional glob­al­iza­tion works.”

Ninety per­cent of Greek olive oil is exported to the European Union, 80 per­cent in bulk plus 10 per­cent as Greek brand name olive oil. Exports are increas­ing to other coun­tries as well, such as Canada, Australia, Japan, China, India and the US. We are by far small exporters but there is oppor­tu­nity for us to grow,” says Antoniadis. Now, it’s a mat­ter of tap­ping that oppor­tu­nity.”


Photos: Marissa Tejada Benekos

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