Part of our continuing special coverage of the 2022 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.
Producers from Tunisia triumphed at the 2022 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, winning a record-setting 32 awards and achieving the North African country’s highest-ever success rate of 80 percent.
Tunisian brands earned 21 Gold Awards and 11 Silver Awards at this year’s edition of the world’s largest olive oil quality competition, despite bearing the brunt of climate change in recent months.
Tunisia’s success at the prestigious World Competition in New York constitutes a recognition of the excellent quality of Tunisian olive oil.
“Tunisia’s success at the prestigious World Competition in New York constitutes a recognition of the excellent quality of Tunisian olive oil,” Tunisian Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries Minister Mahmoud Elias Hamza told Olive Oil Times.
“It is the confirmation of the efforts of the government and stakeholders in the olive sector of Tunisia for developing the quality [of our olive oil],” he added.See Also:The Best Olive Oils from Tunisia
Hamza said that in many countries, the health benefits of olive oil are still not widely-known, but that is starting to change.
“Producers in Tunisia are optimistic – given the growth in demand recorded during the Covid-19 pandemic – and we are sure that competitions [such as the NYIOOC] promote olive oil and its nutritional value to the consumer,” he said. “Tunisia is one of the leaders in high-quality extra virgin olive oil production.”
He attributed Tunisia’s terroir to the country’s success as a world-class producer but admitted climate change remains the main threat to olive oil producers.
“Like this campaign with a production of only 240,000 tons of olive oil, compared to the record of 440,000 tons in 2019/2020,” he said, highlighting the effects of climate change on production volumes.
“Despite this, good production practices and expertise in quality control contributed to the success of Tunisian extra virgin olive oils in different competitions, including the World Olive Oil Competition in New York,” Hamza added.
Hamza is confident the awards will contribute significantly to the reputation of Tunisian olive oil and expand the market for exporting their oils to the United States, which his department identified as the leading importer and consumer market outside the European Union.
Ben Ayed Salah, the owner of Tunisian brand Domaine Adonis, earned three Gold Awards for Arbosana and Chetoui monovarietals and a blend.
He said his company had its sights set on the lucrative U.S. market after his victory in New York.
“We are very proud and excited after winning the NYIOOC for the third consecutive year,” he told Olive Oil Times. “It highlights the quality of our oils internationally, and we look forward to entering the American market.”
Olivko, one of Tunisia’s biggest winners at the 2022 NYIOOC, took home five awards for its organic extra virgin olive oils.
The company earned three Golds for its robust Chetoui, medium-intensity Chemlali and medium-intensity Wild Cultivar; and two Silvers for its delicate and medium-intensity Chetoui extra virgin olive oils.
“I had exactly the same feeling as I had in 2019 when I won Best in Class [an award category that has since been discontinued],” Karim Fitouri, the founder and owner of Olivko, said shortly after learning about his success at this year’s competition.
Fitouri said it will “always be everyone’s dream” to receive the industry’s most coveted quality award.
“We need to understand what competitions mean altogether,” he told Olive Oil Times, adding that consumers need to know which oils they can trust.
“And the NYIOOC does exactly that. It gives consumers peace of mind that an oil is good [quality],” he said. “For my brand, winning year in and year out confirms we are here to stay.”
Fitouri has mastered the process of creating high-quality extra virgin olive oil, sourcing the best olives from across Tunisia to create his award-winning oils.
“I then press them myself and control the whole process myself to get what I want to give to my clients,” he said.
However, Fitouri does not believe any given country’s oil is better than another’s.
“There are no borders in olive oils,” he said, adding that when consumers decide which country’s oils they want to buy, they should base their decision on the desired characteristics and cultivars.
Fitouri added that Tunisian producers had to contend with extreme heat during the last harvest season. He said they need more education on harvesting techniques and more accessible transportation for their olives.
“There are a lot of problems, but they are improving,” he said.
However, even though the reputation of Tunisian producers is improving internationally, Fitouri said some hit a wall after crafting award-winning extra virgin olive oils.
“Some buyers from the rest of the world aren’t willing to pay a fair price for their extra virgin olive oil,” he said. “When they look at Tunisia, they want cheap oil. And we know what cheap means: low quality. So when producers make high-quality extra virgin olive oil, they can’t sell it.”
Another NYIOOC-winning producer focused on the international market is Sfax-based La Société Agricole d’Innovation, which won a Gold Award for its Golden Spoon brand, a delicate organic Chetoui.
“We feel very proud and honored for us to win an award at this year’s NYIOOC,” Walid Hachicha, production manager for La Société Agricole d’Innovation, told Olive Oil Times. “The award isn’t just to recognize the quality of our olive oil, but it rewards us for all the hard work we put in to share our oil with our consumers.”
“The award confirms the quality [of our olive oil] and our competence in the harvesting and producing our olive oil,” he added. “It also ensures that our olive oil has the experts on its side.”
For Hachicha and the rest of his team, winning awards at international competitions helps raise brand awareness in Canada, where the company imports most of its production. However, focusing on the kind of quality that wins awards does mean sacrificing quantity.
“We focus on a nutrient-dense olive oil filled with polyphenols,” Hachicha said. “We do so by ensuring we handpick our early harvest and cold press our olive oil.”
“Because we harvest our olives early, it results in less olive oil production compared to a late harvest,” he added. “This puts financial pressure on our production but allows us to stick by our values – delivering high-phenolic extra virgin olive oil.”