While a debate swirls around how to ensure the quality of extra virgin olive oil in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, consumers in India are getting an entirely different message.
In a new campaign rolled out by the country’s largest olive oil marketer, it’s the lowest edible grade — one that can’t even legally be called “olive oil” in most places — that Indians should turn to for a healthier diet: Introducing the only major campaign in the world to promote olive pomace oil.
It’s all under the direction of VN Dalmia, 57, son of pioneer industrialist Ramkrishna Dalmia, and the chairman of Dalmia Continental, the company behind Leonardo Olive Oil.
He is the president of the Indian Olive Association, a former president of the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce, a trustee at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, and a Knight Commander of Italy for his contribution to the development of friendly relations. “I am conscious of my responsibilities and weigh my words carefully as I speak,” he told Olive Oil Times.
Dalmia has been criticized for choosing to concentrate marketing efforts on the lowest oil grade but he says his critics have it all wrong. “Criticism is misconceived and displays a lack of understanding of the realities of the Indian marketplace,” he said.
“We have various companies, associations, consortia and even the IOC trying to introduce new ‘Mediterranean’ and other diets, new tastes, etc. and concurrently telling us that (extra virgin) tastes ‘better.’ This is akin to taking coconut oil to Italy or Spain and telling them that their food would taste better if cooked in coconut oil or, for that matter, mustard oil to France and proposing the same to them! Good marketing consists of determining and giving the customer what she wants and needs rather than trying to shove your product down her throat and tell her what is better for her.”
After pressing olives into oil, what’s left is the residue called pomace: the solid remains of the olive including skins, pulp, seeds, and stems. There is such a little amount of oil left in the pomace that it cannot be extracted by pressing, but only through industrial refining including the use of chemical solvents (like hexane), extremely high heat and deodorization.
Olive pomace oil is used by instututional food services, restaurants and pizzerias. It is often picked up by unwitting shoppers swayed by the romantic packaging with its misleading wording and low price — unaware that they’re not actually buying olive oil at all.
It’s the olive pomace grade that Dalmia emphasizes in a new mass-market campaign in India under the slogan “Go Indiano.”
“We decided to focus on Indian cuisine and daily use because that is where the volume would come from. We introduced Leonardo Olive Pomace Oil because of the way Indian food is prepared,” Dalmia said. “Everyday Indian food involves high-heat cooking. Extra virgin olive oil presented problems with frying: it was unstable at high temperatures and it imparted an olive flavor to the food and thus changed the taste. As a result, people who tried it concluded that olive oil was unsuitable for Indian cooking and abandoned it. Olive pomace oil presented none of these problems.”
Abandoned is right. In a 2008 interview, Dalmia predicted consumption of olive oil in India would reach 25,000 tons in 2010, and 42,000 tons in 2012 — forecasts that turned out to be way off. Last year the total was 4,000 tons, this year it might be 6,000 — incredibly small numbers for 1.2 billion people. It would equal about 1/4 of a tablespoon per year for the average Indian, or about one-ten-thousandth of what the typical Greek consumes — or less than one-hundredth of the average American.
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