By Daniel Williams
Olive Oil Times Contributor | Reporting from Barcelona

Spain continues to dominate the Chinese olive oil market as an optimistic report shows that in 2009 Spanish producers exported more than 10 million kilos of olive oil to the Asian giant. This represents significant control in an emerging market.  The study found that, while consumers can choose among some 86 different brands of olive oil in China, only seven have a consistent presence in the market and four of these seven olive oil brands are of Spanish origin.

According to a study conducted by Andalusían consulting firm Marlocor, 82% of the olive oil purchased by Chinese consumers is designated extra virgin olive oil,
nearly half (49%) of which is from Spain.  With respect to the origins of lesser grades of olive oils, Greece and Italy are first and second respectively, although Spanish exports of non-extra virgin olive oils to China jumped from 12% in 2008 to 14% in 2009.

Expectations for continued growth in Spanish exports to China and elsewhere are overwhelmingly positive. According to Rafael Picó, chief director of Asoliva — a non-profit entity formed by 59 olive oil exporting companies from several Spanish provinces — Spain shattered total olive oil export records during 2009-2010 by reaching 770,000 tons.  Mr. Picó attributed this to various promotional campaigns and increases in imports from countries such as Australia, Russia, Brazil, the United States, and of course, China.

In order to continue their success in the Asian region, Spanish producers engage in marketing efforts in China with the financial and administrative support of the Spanish central government. The campaign to promote Spanish olive oil abroad centers around the “Olive Oil From Spain” website launched by the Spanish Foreign Trade Institute. This is part of a long-term marketing initiative which aims to convey the image of Spain as the worldwide leader in the production and merchandising of olive oil at a time when China continues to relax restrictions on foreign imports.

The institute has funded an intensive promotional campaign via Chinese TV which emphasizes the long term health benefits of olive oil consumption and elaborates the advantages of cooking with olive oil. The primary aim of the initiative is to convert Chinese consumers into habitual olive oil users.

This may prove difficult. The Marlocor study indicates that while 60% of Chinese consumers know of olive oil, its healthful properties and superior taste, the low income majority continues to stick with cheaper options such as peanut, soy or sunflower oil.

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