Six firms are vying for a 1.2 million euro ($1.7 million) contract to promote olive oil and olive consumption in the world’s biggest import market – the U.S. – and Canada.

The deadline to have proposals postmarked was May 17. Bids from five North American and one European firm were officially opened this morning in Madrid by the International Olive Council (IOC) who will now use external experts to evaluate the proposals in time for the successful agency to start in July.

The Olive Council wants to launch the campaign during the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade’s Fancy Food Show to be held in Washington this Summer. Promotional initiatives are expected to focus on the retail level where the agency’s research has indicated it is easier to influence buying decisions.

An IOC spokeswoman said the names of the applicants could not be revealed. Two exercised their right to have a representative present at today’s bid opening. The contract up for grabs is an 18-month campaign to increase consumption of olive oil and table olives in the U.S. and Canada.

In its tender information, the IOC says that the focus should be “on their many health-related properties. At the same time, it has to be made clear that olive oil and table olives are healthy products that can be used raw and cooked to flavor not only Mediterranean but other kinds of cuisines.”

The request for proposals continues the “importance of media relations is stressed. Motivating the media to distribute messages about the benefits of olive oil and table olives provides the strongest opportunity for building visibility.”

The IOC tender documents also emphasize that straight advertising campaigns should be avoided. “The main focus should be on information-oriented action, such as editorial articles and services, interviews and so on. The general messages to be conveyed should take into consideration the three distinctive features of olive oil and table olives, namely their unique taste, the range and different qualities of product available; and their health aspects and benefits.”

And it wants to educate consumers on price: “Moreover, the general message based on these distinctive features should be aimed at justifying the price of the product.”

The IOC tender specifications also say that the shorter term priority is to get existing consumers of olives and olive oil to use more. Wooing new consumers is the longer term goal.

“Outside of Europe, USA and Canada represent the largest consumer of table olives and olive oil worldwide. However, it is important for the olive industry in the short and medium terms to focus on securing greater volume purchases from existing consumers and in the long term from new ones. The expectation is for imports to increase significantly over the next 3 to 5 years.”

A recent IOC forecast said that the world’s biggest user of olive oil, the EU, was likely to consume 1.8 million tons in 2010-11. Meanwhile, the US was forecast to remain the second highest, with consumption expected to rise just 0.7%, to 260,000 tons.

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