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Jean-Louis Barjol, the executive director of the International Olive Council has called the results in India a “disappointment,” and has since put the IOC’s limited promotional dollars to work elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Dalmia Continental has announced a plan to spend Rs. 60 crores ($13 million) on getting the word out, and it is inviting investors to come along for the ride. “We have several offers for participation in our growth equity and are evaluating the proposals. We shall make announcements shortly,” VN Dalmia said.

Dalmia’s $13 million campaign dwarfs the $1.7 million the International Olive Council hopes will have an impact in the world’s biggest market. And the differences just get more stark from there.

The IOC’s North American olive oil promotional campaign was launched at a small Lincoln Center photo op that coincided with New York’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, featuring EVOO cocktails and an aspirational message that likened olive oil to the “little black dress.”

While in India, the campaign is aimed at getting people to move up from unhealthy seed oils by explaining that olive oil doesn’t have to be expensive: By using olive pomace oil and “reusing it up to three times,” olive oil’s famous health benefits can be obtained affordably and without altering the taste of traditional India dishes, the pitch goes.

“We should not waste time and energy in criticizing different grades of olive oil or each other,” Dalmia suggested. ” Olive oil purists, in their zeal to promote the benefits and taste of extra virgin, miss the point, he said. “Internecine squabbling will not serve to grow the world market.”

Olive Oil Times contributing writer Vikas Vij acknowledged the different market segments and what drives their decisions: “Health is the primary concern of urban Indians, and they will need a scientific assurance that olive pomace oil is at least ‘not worse’ than their existing cooking oils in terms of health,” Vij said from Delhi adding, “however, rural and less affluent Indians may opt for olive pomace oil due to economic compulsions if it is effectively cheaper than other cooking oils.”

Nidhi Jhingan, a 39-year-old professional  and married mother of two children in Delhi wonders if the approach employed by Dalmia and others might prove to be shortsighted: “Olive pomace oil may initially sell due to consumer confusion about the difference between pomace oils and higher grades. That is not a sustainable strategy in the long-term. It is better to present scientific facts and comparisons with other traditional Indian cooking oils, and let the consumer make an informed choice. Consumer education about extra virgin and pomace oils is critical for any responsible Indian olive oil producer as well as the government. ”

Of course with big risks come big rewards. “We agree that olive oil consumption in this giant country is miniscule but are encouraged by the potential,” Dalmia said, but he admitted he’s not alone: “This notion that a quick buck can be made by importing a container of olive oil has been the sure road to ruin for many and creates havoc in the market. However, a slow process of consolidation is taking place, a few brands are gaining prominence and I expect that many brands will fall by the way-side in the next 2 years.”

Meanwhile, India is a mess when it comes to health and VN Dalmia thinks olive pomace oil is one product that can reverse the deadly trend:  “India ranks as World No.1 in cardiac patients. More than 100 million people in India suffer from heart disease. 31 percent of urban Indians are either overweight or obese. 140 million people in India have high blood pressure,” Dalmia said. “Over 40 percent of urban Indians have high lipid levels. India is the diabetic capital of world with an estimated 51 million people affected. The situation is already a national emergency. We need a healthy oil. Olive oil, including olive pomace oil, is the world’s healthiest edible oil.”

See the complete transcript of the interview with VN Dalmia..


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