`Interview with VN Dalmia, Indian Olive Association - Olive Oil Times

Interview with VN Dalmia, Indian Olive Association

Jul. 16, 2010
Gita Narrayani

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VN Dalmia serves as chair­man of New Delhi-based Dalmia Continental Private Limited (DCPL). DCPL, Dalmia’s flag­ship com­pany, owns Leonardo Olive Oil and Hudson Canola Oil — both mar­ket lead­ers in their cat­e­gories. DCPL forms part of the Dalmia Group of com­pa­nies which was founded by Dalmia’s father, the indus­tri­al­ist Ramkrishna Dalmia, in the early 1930s as the Dalmia-Jain Group which would become India’s third largest busi­ness empire.

Dalmia is a Knight Commander of Italy hav­ing been awarded the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity” in recog­ni­tion of his con­tri­bu­tion to the devel­op­ment of friendly rela­tions with Italy. He is also pres­i­dent of the Indian Olive Association and exec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the Babu Jagjivan Ram National Foundation, an autonomous orga­ni­za­tion of the Indian gov­ern­ment ded­i­cated to the uplift of the back­ward classes. He has pre­vi­ously been pres­i­dent of the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce (NIC).

In addi­tion to an MBA from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, Dalmia received a degree in eco­nom­ics from the University of Delhi’s Shri Ram College of Commerce.

Olive Oil Times: What are the pro­mo­tional activ­i­ties of the International Olive Council (IOC) in India?

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VN Dalmia: The IOC con­ducted two cam­paigns in India, the first in 2007 and the 2nd in 2009. The bud­get for the first cam­paign was €400,000 and for the sec­ond, €800,000. The pro­mo­tional activ­i­ties con­sisted of: par­tic­i­pa­tion in trade fairs and exhi­bi­tions, con­duct­ing work­shops and lec­tures for women, cre­ation of book­lets and infor­ma­tion kits, a web­site, col­lab­o­ra­tion with a celebrity chef/ambassador (Sanjeev Kapoor and Prahlad Kakkar), mar­ket research, pub­lic rela­tions and pub­lic­ity includ­ing com­mer­cials on tele­vi­sion and adver­tise­ments in the print media. They have no plans for any fur­ther cam­paigns in India.

The Consortium of Guarantee of Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil has how­ever, launched a 3‑year cam­paign in India this year, financed by the European Union and Italy with a bud­get of €2 million.

OOT: Do you really feel that olive oil will pen­e­trate all strata of the Indian mar­ket as a cook­ing medium?

VND: It must, but it will hap­pen grad­u­ally. The fact is that India ranks high­est in car­diac patients, with 10% of the pop­u­la­tion affected and the World Health Organization expects heart dis­ease to be the sin­gle great­est killer in by 2015.

Given the back­drop of the national health sit­u­a­tion, I expect olive oil to pen­e­trate larger sec­tions of the mar­ket, once peo­ple real­ize it is not as expen­sive to use as it seems. Presently, we have made great efforts to pub­li­cize the fact that olive oil is used in smaller quan­ti­ties than other oils (as low as 1/3rd the quan­tity) and that there are dif­fer­ent grades of olive oil for dif­fer­ent uses. Olive pomace oil is the most eco­nom­i­cal and suit­able for Indian cook­ing and is a good sub­sti­tute for those used by the Indian con­sumer, i.e. sun­flower, saf­flower, peanut, and others.

In India oil is used as a cook­ing medium, not as a fla­vor­ing agent. Earlier, every­one advised use of the extra vir­gin vari­ety, as it is the best. It has the best fla­vor, but is not always the best for Indian cuisine.

In the light of the dis­ease sce­nario in our coun­try, if the Indian house­hold has to pay Rs.20 more per day for bet­ter health, is it too high a price to pay? Given the health ben­e­fits, I have no doubt that olive oil will pen­e­trate the upper and mid­dle strata of the Indian mar­ket as a cook­ing medium.

OOT: Olive pomace oil is sup­pos­edly extracted with a chem­i­cal Hexane and is con­sid­ered the low­est grade in olive oils. It is there­fore a vari­ety of olive oil that is nor­mally not uti­lized for cook­ing in Europe or the USA. What are your views on this?

VND: The same sol­vent Hexane is used to extract other cook­ing oils like it is for Olive Pomace Oil. The use of Hexane, by itself is not a mat­ter of con­cern. What should be a mat­ter of con­cern is the level of Benzopyrene preva­lent in any sol­vent- extracted oil. Benzopyrene results from the process of sol­vent extrac­tion and excess is said to be harm­ful. India has no stan­dard for the per­mis­si­ble limit of Benzopyrene in sol­vent-extracted edi­ble oils. The European Union (EU) has a strict limit of 2 parts per bil­lion and as all the Olive pomace oil comes from the EU, it is amply safe.

The US started out with Olive pomace oil 30 years ago and grad­u­ally moved up to extra vir­gin, as the gen­eral level of accep­tance increased. Olive pomace oil is even today used in many coun­tries for high-heat cook­ing or deep fry­ing. It has a very high smok­ing point, which is not reached eas­ily. In terms of ben­e­fi­cial fat con­tent, i.e. monoun­sat­u­rated fat, it has exactly the same as other grades of olive oil and there­fore pro­vides the same health benefits.

OOT: What kind of activ­ity is the Indian Olive Association plan­ning in the near future to pop­u­lar­ize olive oil in India?

VND: We are in the midst of delib­er­a­tions about what would be the best approach to pop­u­lar­ize olive oil in India. All options are open at the moment. We are con­sid­er­ing press, elec­tronic media, tar­geted pro­mo­tions to the med­ical com­mu­nity and other options. We expect Indians to move towards olive oil pri­mar­ily because of its health ben­e­fits and our deci­sions shall be guided by this fac­tor. We expect to decide our activ­i­ties in the next few months.

OOT: This is con­cern­ing the few olive cul­ti­va­tion projects in India. Do you think that these would ever be viable to the extent of bring­ing down the prices of olive oil and thereby mak­ing it acces­si­ble to the aver­age Indian?

VND: Currently, all the olive oil con­sumed in India is imported. The entre­pre­neurs who are invest­ing in olive cul­ti­va­tion now are coura­geous entre­pre­neurs, because they are doing some­thing new in India. It will be 2013 or later that their invest­ments will begin to pro­vide returns.

The Rajasthan project is a pio­neer­ing project and the first of its kind in India. At present, the project is a pilot project on 250 hectares of land where the State Government of Rajasthan has pro­vided the land, the Israeli firm has pro­vided the tech­ni­cal exper­tise and an Indian firm has pro­vided the seed cap­i­tal. So it is a 3‑way col­lab­o­ra­tion. Last year, there was an announce­ment of a Punjab gov­ern­ment deci­sion to under­take a sim­i­lar ven­ture, but noth­ing fur­ther has been heard.

Considering the size of our coun­try and pop­u­la­tion, the present stage of olive pro­duc­tion in India makes it dif­fi­cult to pre­dict the future scope of home-grown olive oil.

OOT: Despite olive oil being con­sid­ered a healthy cook­ing medium, it does not seem likely that it would be a com­monly-used oil in India, as it has been restricted to the extreme top-end of the mar­ket. Is the Indian Olive Association inter­ested in pro­mot­ing it to the gen­eral public?

VND: As the national health sit­u­a­tion is already an emer­gency, the need of the hour is to pro­mote a pre­ven­tive lifestyle to the gen­eral pub­lic. A sig­nif­i­cant com­po­nent of any healthy diet is an oil, high in monoun­sat­u­rated fats. Olive oil has the high­est amount of monoun­sat­u­rated fats in the world. We are inter­ested in pro­mot­ing olive oil to the gen­eral pub­lic and expect increas­ing adop­tion of olive oil as a cook­ing medium, due to the trickle-down effect. We have already seen its adop­tion at the high end of the mar­ket and the mid­dle-income seg­ment is begin­ning to adopt it now. As afflu­ence and liv­ing stan­dards improve, adop­tion will increase and pro­mo­tions need to be geared accordingly.

OOT: Olive oil is a heart-healthy oil but there is hardly any gen­eral pro­mo­tion or pub­lic­ity by any olive oil com­pany or the Indian Olive Association in this con­nec­tion. Surely, a sus­tained cam­paign is needed to dis­sem­i­nate this infor­ma­tion in a coun­try where heart dis­ease is so rampant?

VND: Olive oil is the health­i­est edi­ble oil for the pre­ven­tion of heart dis­ease. Most impor­tantly, vir­gin olive oil is rich in antiox­i­dants (A, D, E, K and β‑carotene), which fight can­cer and increase life expectancy. Olive oil is also the rich­est source of oleic acid, which pro­tects against breast can­cer. It also reduces the risk of bowel can­cer and pro­tects against colon can­cer and child­hood leukemia. There are numer­ous other health ben­e­fits of olive oil and any cam­paign under­taken by us would empha­size these aspects. Individual cam­paigns by com­pa­nies high­light­ing the health plank are also grad­u­ally being observed in the media.

OOT: Is the Dalmia Group plan­ning a foray into olive cul­ti­va­tion in India?

VND: There are no plans as of now. There are 4 aspects to the olive oil sec­tor – cul­ti­va­tors, proces­sors, packers/bottlers and sell­ers. The log­i­cal back­ward inte­gra­tion would require us to become pack­ers or bot­tlers as the next step. Olive cul­ti­va­tion is best left to the agriculturists.

OOT: Is there any­thing else you would like to say to Olive Oil Times read­ers around the world?

VND: Our inflated expec­ta­tions of growth did not mate­ri­al­ize, per­haps as a result of the eco­nomic reces­sion. Imports were more or less sta­tic in the last 2 years. With the revival of the econ­omy and the tourism indus­try, which pro­vides demand from the HORECA (hotels, restau­rants and cafes) sec­tor, we expect a return to growth this year.

The entry of com­pa­nies in the orga­nized sec­tor would also pro­vide sus­tained and focused indi­vid­ual pro­mo­tional cam­paigns. Earlier, com­pa­nies that sold olive oil were mere food importers and it was just one com­mod­ity among many oth­ers. They had no inter­est in edu­cat­ing the con­sumer or invest­ing in the pro­mo­tion. Even today, these com­pa­nies sim­ply fol­low dis­count­ing strate­gies with­out any prod­uct seg­men­ta­tion or mar­ket­ing strat­egy. With the intro­duc­tion of cor­po­rates, we expect con­sol­i­da­tion in the indus­try and an increas­ing num­ber of pro­mo­tional campaigns.

A final, very impor­tant prob­lem is the lack of stan­dard­iza­tion in the indus­try and mar­ket. The Prevention of Food Adulteration rules here are incon­sis­tent with the IOC stan­dards regard­ing olive oil and also with Codex and EU stan­dards. Products and def­i­n­i­tions under Indian law are vastly dif­fer­ent from inter­na­tional prod­uct spec­i­fi­ca­tions. We need to syn­chro­nize our prod­uct def­i­n­i­tions and spec­i­fi­ca­tions with the IOC and have an inspec­tion and enforce­ment mech­a­nism to check the prod­uct in the market.

We have had cases where other oils or blends of other oils have been packed and sold as olive oil. We have also had cases of olive pomace oil being sold as extra vir­gin oil. In order to check this kind of activ­ity, we need our laws to spec­ify what the dif­fer­ent oils are, so that prod­ucts which do not con­form to this law are made ille­gal and action can be taken. We have raised this issue with the new Food Safety and Standards Authority and are pur­su­ing it on top priority.

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