VN Dalmia (OOT File)

Indian Olive Association President VN Dalmia has announced that the country’s olive oil import volumes are expected to reach 10,000 tons this financial year, representing a jump of nearly 45 percent over the previous year. The surge in imports comes on the back of strong growth in consumption of olive oil in major Indian cities such as New Delhi and Hyderabad, he noted.

In the 2011-12 financial year, the total import volume of olive oil in India stood at 6,900 tons, about 80 percent of which came from Spain and Italy. For the April-June quarter in 2012, the imports were 2,300 tons, which gave rise to optimism about the growing demand for olive oil.

While table olive imports were largely stable last year, they have shown significant growth in 2012. Table olive imports in 2011 totaled 625 tons, but it has already reached 616 tons during the first eight months of 2012.

According to Dalmia, North India is a key market witnessing a sharp growth in demand for olive oil. “Broadly speaking, North India is the largest consumer of olive oil and the split is 50:50 between Delhi and the rest of North India. It is followed by South India where Hyderabad is the biggest consumer followed by Bangalore and Chennai. In West India, Mumbai is the largest consumer,” he said.

Despite the encouragement, 10,000 tons is an astoundingly small amount for such an immense population — around 1 1/2 teaspoons per year for each person — and most of the “olive oil” imported into the country isn’t technically olive oil at all, it’s olive pomace oil.

Olive pomace oil is the lowest edible grade of oil which is derived from olive oil production byproducts in the same refining process used to make canola and other seed oils. International standards do not classify it as a type “olive oil” — it is in its own class. While olive pomace oil would still be a step up for Indians who have traditionally used unhealthy seed oils like coconut and peanut oils (and consequently have the world’s highest rate of cardiovascular diseases), there are critics who say Indians deserve better.

Spain, Italy and Turkey are the three primary sources for India’s olive oil and olive pomace oil imports. Greece, Syria and Tunisia have smaller shares.

Leonardo, Figaro and Borges (including Cesar) are three leading brands that account for more than 60 percent of the annual retail sales across the country. RS, Bertolli, Del Monte, Fragata, Colavita and Athena are some of the other top brands selling in the Indian market.

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