The battle for dominance within China’s olive oil market is still very much underway but Spanish producers are now said to be pushing ahead. The Chinese are the world’s leading importers of olive oil and until recently the main bulk of their supply had come from Italian producers.

According to the Spanish news agency, El Mundo, the balance has now tilted toward Andalusia, with Spain managing to secure almost half (49 percent) of China’s olive oil imports. Andalusia, as Spain’s leading producer of oil, is said to account for 82 percent of Spanish virgin and extra virgin olive oil purchased by the Asian giant.

Over the years Andalusia has successfully grown its exports to China. 2009 saw sales to Chinese markets reach 14.5 million euros, a figure that was up 50 percent compared to the previous year and almost six times greater than figures recorded in 2005 when Spain first began its Chinese campaign.

China is an interesting market for olive oil producers. Although it has been argued that general consumption within the country is not huge, the opinion is widely held that as Chinese consumers become more knowledgeable of the product, demand will rapidly increase. Education of consumers is a significant area in which the marketing battle can be quickly won or lost and this is something that Spain, like so many other oil producing countries, has been quick to recognize.

Since 2005, Andalusian oil has been marketed with the tagline El sol de España en su mesa. Aceite de oliva de Andalucia (Spanish sun on the table. Olive oil from Andalusia). Spanish campaigns in China have focused both on the variety of uses of Spanish oil as well as its proven health benefits. Extenda, who are leading the campaign, have worked hard to spread the word about Spanish olive oil by investing in advertorials in leading Chinese newspapers, sponsoring key culinary television programs and in carrying out hundreds of information sessions and promotions in supermarkets. In 2007 Extenda also launched a new website designed to build business presence at the China oil fair.

According to market research carried out by the Spanish agency in Beijing and Shanghai, which make up China’s main centers of olive oil consumption, 66 percent of people claimed to be aware of Spanish olive oil while 52 percent declared that they were consumers of Spanish oil brands. The research also showed that Spanish oil was considered to be a high quality product and that health factors played a key role in consumer purchase decisions. Uses showed as ranging from being used as a dressing for cold dishes, to use in cosmetics.

One Spanish collective that is hoping to benefit from Chinese campaigns is the Hojiblanca Group, which is made up of 51 smaller oil producing cooperatives in the Adalusian region. The group currently makes up 12.5 percent of Chinese imports and aims to develop this to 20 percent. Another key Spanish producer, Castillo de Tabernas Almeria, is said to have signed an important distribution deal in China, aiming to get its products into key gourmet stores. The Almeria Company has also agreed to distribute its oil to Chinese beauty salons under its brand ‘Oleo Spa’, to be used in massages and other beauty treatments.

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