The world is wondering whether the Greek government will come to an agreement with its creditors that will enable the country to avoid defaulting on its debts and stay in the Eurozone. With an economic crisis continuing, billions of euros have been withdrawn from Greek banks in recent months, and a quarter of the workforce remains unemployed. No one is sure what will happen to the economy, which is back in recession after slight signs of improvement last year.
Like other Greeks, olive farmers are looking for steady income. Many earn ready money by selling their oil in bulk, a fact almost universally deplored by industry commentators. According to Ekathemerini, a recent report by the National Bank of Greece claims that standardization of Greek olive oil could bring the economy an additional €250 million per year from exports, plus another €85 million for the state from sales tax. Only about 27 percent of Greek olive oil is standardized to date versus 50 percent in Spain and 80 percent in Italy, although far more Greek olive oil is extra virgin (80 percent, compared with 65 percent in Italy and 30 percent in Spain, as the Greek version of the article notes).
As Bloomberg reported, Terra Creta S. A. in Kolymvari, Crete is one company that offers farmers a better option than a Greek bank these days, given the chance that Greece may leave the Eurozone and return to the drachma, potentially devaluing savings. Terra Creta pays cash for olives, the farmers know their oil is safely stored under controlled conditions where its value will be preserved, and they understand that their harvest will be used to make bottled and branded Greek olive oil that reaches international markets. Terra Creta’s exports are part of an increase in Greek olive oil exports during the first three months of 2015, when Agronews noted that 50,869 tons brought the struggling country €178.2 million, according to the Panhellenic Exporters Association and the Center for Export Research and Studies.
During this successful first quarter, Greek olive oil has been making inroads in at least one place Italy used to dominate: Costco Wholesale Corporation in the United States. The Greek olive oil industry took what Terra Creta’s Fotis Sousalis called “a half step” toward a breakthrough into the American market when Costco decided to use Greek oil instead of Italian for its Kirkland Signature 2-liter bottle of extra virgin. The Seattle Times reported that this occurred after Italian olive oil production dropped by a third, and its prices increased by 84 percent in March compared to the previous year.
On the one hand, Sousalis suggested in an interview, this might help convince American buyers they can get a good product, good prices, and reliable cooperation from Greek companies. So far, only 4 percent of Greek olive oil is exported to the U. S., and Americans are largely unaware of its high quality. On the other hand, Sousalis told Olive Oil Times, Costco is buying olive oil produced in Mylopotamos, Crete that was sold to Italy in bulk and bottled in Italy, so Greeks are not benefiting from much of the added value.
Greece needs as much income as it can get right now. As Agrocapital reported, farmers are worried about last week’s proposals by the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, which could effectively double Greek farmers’ income taxes while reducing their subsidies. The coming days will show whether the Greek government will come to an agreement with those institutions, and on what terms.
Meanwhile, a less complex international agreement was concluded. According to Olive News, at a meeting in Zakynthos, international professionals in the fields of science, nutrition, health, gastronomy, and communications agreed last month to establish the non-profit Oleocanthal International Society (OIS). Dr. Jose Antonio Amerigo, president of the Andalusian Oleocanthal Society, suggested that the new international society be formed. The initial meeting was chaired by Professor Gary Beauchamp of the Monell Center in Philadelphia and coordinated by associate professor Prokopis Magiatis of the University of Athens.
See more: An International Society for Oleocanthal
The OIS will be headquartered in Spain, with meetings alternating between Spain and Greece, starting in Andalusia in October. The society will aim to promote research and increase public awareness of the health benefits of olive oils that are rich in oleocanthal and other phenols. It also intends to advise the olive oil industry, producers, and legislators regarding health claims for olive oil and measurement of these key components.