Farmers’ Market in Chania, Crete (Photo: Lisa Radnovsky for Olive Oil Times)

Exports from the Greek island of Crete nearly doubled to €295 million for the first six months of 2015 according to Alkiviadis Kalabokis, president of the Exporters’ Association of Crete, largely due to increased olive oil exports which grew an even more dramatic 518 percent during the same period.

Kalabokis said that development was possible because 2013 was a “disastrous” harvest year for Cretan olive oil producers, whereas the 2014 harvest season was much better in terms of both quality and price.

The Association of Cretan Olive Municipalities (SEDIK) quoted Kalabokis as crediting the impressive rise in exports as “a decisive factor for the recovery of the local economy,” with “Crete once again emerging as one of the most dynamic export regions of Greece.” SEDIK noted that olive oil comprises 57 percent of the total value of exports from Crete.

Kalabokis told Olive Oil Times that he expects this year’s Cretan olive oil harvest to be similar to last year’s, so he anticipates the strong level of exports to continue, although the overall effect of the capital controls in place since last June remains to be seen. In any case, he foresees a good harvest, and competitive prices for olive oil in Crete and throughout Greece.

SEDIK sees hope in Cretan exporters’ achievements in the face of the difficulties of the economic crisis in Greece but cautions that efforts by businesses are not enough. “Governmental measures to facilitate exports and a definitive lifting of capital controls” are also required. SEDIK urges an increase in the export of bottled olive oil so added value can come to Crete rather than being lost to the island through bulk sales.

Kalabokis explained that about half of exported Cretan olive oil was sold in bulk to Italy (45 percent) and Spain (5 percent) last year, while the rest was sold bottled. This is a vast improvement over ten years ago when 95 percent of Cretan olive oil was sold in bulk to Italy.

According to Kalabokis, the Greek economic crisis has shown that most Greeks work hard, especially in the private sector, seeing what improvements are needed and promptly making the appropriate changes. Both established Cretan companies and small new ones have made a lot of progress not only in quality, but also in certifying their olive oil and offering a variety of high-quality products in good packaging.

Composed of about 170 companies, the Exporters’ Association of Crete has helped make it the first region in Greece to “focus on regional marketing,” to introduce Cretan olive oil and Cretan producers to new markets. Cretan companies have a ready-made marketing story to tell, based on what Kalabokis describes as “our own history, our own tradition, our own traditional diet,” which many view as the basis of the famous Mediterranean diet.

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