`Brazil’s Al-Zait Rises to International Acclaim - Olive Oil Times

Brazil’s Al-Zait Rises to International Acclaim

By Paolo DeAndreis
Dec. 19, 2023 00:43 UTC

In only two sea­sons, south­ern Brazilian pro­ducer Al-Zait has gone from a new­comer to olive oil pro­duc­tion to an award-win­ner on the biggest stage.

The Rio Grande do Sul-based pro­ducer earned three Gold Awards at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, plac­ing its Picual, Frantoio and Koroneiki mono­va­ri­etals among the world’s best extra vir­gin olive oils.

If you want the best qual­ity, you need to have access to the lat­est tech­nol­ogy and full con­trol of the whole process.- Luiza Osório, co-founder, Al-Zait

It all hap­pened so fast, and I think it has to do with our work and pas­sion as well as the avail­abil­ity of tech­nol­ogy and farm­ing pro­ce­dures which, when cor­rectly applied, gave us huge sat­is­fac­tion,” Luiza Osório, Al-Zait’s co-founder and chief finan­cial offi­cer, told Olive Oil Times.

The three awards earned in New York came on the heels of other local acknowl­edg­ments that encour­aged Osório and her part­ner, Fernando Alfama, to take the next step and enter the world’s largest olive oil qual­ity con­test.

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New York has been a very spe­cial com­pe­ti­tion for us; we felt so happy about it. We knew we had great prod­ucts but did not expect to win this much,” Osório said. 2023 has been such a great sea­son for us.”

Fernando and I are from Brazil, but our fam­ily back­ground is com­plex. My mother’s fam­ily is Italian, and my father is half Spanish and half Portuguese. Fernando’s fam­ily has Portuguese and Lebanese roots,” added Osório, hint­ing at the sig­nif­i­cance of olive oil cul­ture in both fam­i­lies.

It all started in 2005, when Fernando was work­ing in Europe, mostly in Portugal, explor­ing his pas­sion, which is cook­ing and food, research­ing ingre­di­ents,” she con­tin­ued. That is how he expe­ri­enced so many good olive oils, qual­ity prod­ucts that we could not find in Brazil at the time.”

The Osório fam­ily farm, located near Brazil’s south­ern bor­der with Uruguay, was mainly ded­i­cated to the com­mon crops of the area, includ­ing soya, rice and rais­ing cat­tle.

In 2014, Fernando vis­ited our fam­ily farm and noticed two hills that were not used,” Osório said. They seemed a cozy place for olive trees, so we started explor­ing the option of plant­ing some there.”

Osório added the cou­ple had friends who pro­duced olive oil in Spain, Italy and Argentina, so the cou­ple had stud­ied how pro­duc­ers were using tech­nol­ogy and agro­nomic prac­tices to achieve qual­ity.

Years later, after exten­sive research, the cou­ple planted 3,300 olive trees on the hills and pro­duced 6,000 liters of olive oil in 2022.

We chose Arbequina for its pol­li­na­tion qual­i­ties and Koroneiki because, dur­ing our research in Uruguay’s farms, we saw how well it can adapt to dif­fer­ent con­di­tions,” Osório said.

I also insisted on hav­ing Picual, which I am a big fan of, and we also wanted a touch of Italy because of our fam­ily roots, which is why we picked Frantoio,” she added.

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Al-Zait produces monovarietal extra virgin olive oils from Cobrançosa, Picual, Frantoio and Koroneiki olives.

Al-Zait also man­ages a small num­ber of Cobrançosa olive trees, a cul­ti­var widely grown in north­ern Portugal and known for its sig­nif­i­cant yields.

In our research, while study­ing how olive trees grew and were taken care of in sev­eral coun­tries, we noticed how the north­ern Portuguese region of Trás-os-Montes, its weather and ter­roir, resem­bled ours in Brazil,” Osório said.

Expanding Cobrançosa olive trees is among the com­pa­ny’s goals. Still, we are not look­ing to increase sig­nif­i­cantly the quan­tity, as we focus exclu­sively on qual­ity,” Osório said.

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All of these trees are far­ing well, and some of our Portuguese friends told us how unusual it is for those trees to grow that high and quickly as they do on our hills,” she added.

Another invest­ment Al-Zait is now work­ing on is the estab­lish­ment of a mill. We need the mill for sev­eral rea­sons,” Osório said. The first is that if you want the best qual­ity, you need to have access to the lat­est tech­nol­ogy and full con­trol of the whole process.”

The sec­ond rea­son is more prac­ti­cal as the mill would be close to our orchards, mak­ing it far eas­ier to pre­serve the qual­ity of the olives while we har­vest and to freshly process the olives them­selves,” she added.

When it is time to har­vest, the com­pany must rent expen­sive air-con­di­tioned trucks to store har­vested olives dur­ing the day. After that, we need to drive more than 170 kilo­me­ters to bring the olives to the mill,” Osório said.

Air-con­di­tion­ing is cru­cial since the har­vest begins in February at the end of the Southern Hemisphere sum­mer when tem­per­a­tures remain quite high.

As we do not want to work under the scorch­ing sun, we usu­ally begin har­vest­ing at 5 a.m. and pro­ceed until 2 p.m., when we need to trans­port the daily har­vest to the mill,” Osório said.

Like pro­duc­ers at just about every lat­i­tude, Al-Zait is learn­ing to cope with the unpre­dictabil­ity of weather.

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Al-Zait said labor regulations make it difficult to hire workers for the harvest on short-term contracts.

This very sea­son feels so unusual, and the trees are also react­ing their own way so that on a sin­gle olive branch, you can find flow­ers, small fruits and big­ger ones,” Osório said.

Along with cli­matic chal­lenges, Osório added that labor reg­u­la­tions in Brazil also present headaches for the award-win­ning pro­ducer.

I would say the biggest hur­dle we need to over­come, and not only us, are the cur­rent Brazilian reg­u­la­tions about sea­sonal labor,” Osório said.

The Al-Zait co-founder noted that while there are tech­ni­cally enough work­ers to com­plete the har­vest, the trou­ble arises from the bureau­cracy asso­ci­ated with hir­ing them on a sea­sonal basis.

The cur­rent reg­u­la­tions tend to exclude the pos­si­bil­ity of con­tract­ing a worker for only 15 or 20 days per year, the amount of time needed dur­ing the har­vest,” she explained.

There is no clear rule on what the fair salary would be and con­di­tions we as an employer should pro­vide to the work­ers,” Osório added. Rules seem to fit only fac­to­ries and indoor facil­i­ties while pro­vid­ing no clear path for those who need employ­ees on the open fields.”

Along with hir­ing employ­ees, the sea­sonal nature of the work often means the same peo­ple are unavail­able each sea­son. As a result, Osório usu­ally has to train the work­ers to har­vest and prune cor­rectly.

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One of Al-Zait’s challenges is training the seasonal workforce every year to follow best harvesting and pruning practices.

The lessons I learned par­tic­i­pat­ing in courses abroad I trans­mit to them,” she said. We now have five work­ers who are trained and can explain to oth­ers how to pro­ceed. I am also on the field when the prun­ing sea­son comes.”

Along with these chal­lenges, Osório said there are chal­lenges asso­ci­ated with con­vinc­ing con­sumers to choose Brazilian extra vir­gin olive oil instead of imported brands.

Brazil’s mar­ket is rapidly grow­ing,” she said. Nevertheless, many local con­sumers still do not know much about olive oil qual­ity, so they do not tend to give value to locally-pro­duced olive oil.”

Instead, she said Brazilian con­sumers instinc­tively reach for brands with Spanish, Italian or Portuguese-sound­ing names in the super­mar­kets.

That is why we are only present in very spe­cific loca­tions and work to sell our prod­uct directly to our tar­get con­sumers, those who look for qual­ity,” Osório said. Once the con­sumers learn about olive oil and taste our prod­ucts, they buy it right away.”

I think we are today where wine was many years ago when local con­sumers still had to under­stand the local prod­uct could be dif­fer­ent but high level,” she con­cluded. It took years to change that cul­ture.”


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