` EVOO Awards Stir Competitive Spirit in Greece

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EVOO Awards Stir Competitive Spirit in Greece

Jun. 3, 2015
By Athan Gadanidis

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At the recent New York Inter­na­tional Olive Oil Com­pe­ti­tion, Greece set a record for the num­ber of entries by any pro­duc­ing coun­try with 177 sub­mis­sions, yet Greek olive oils won just 35 awards rep­re­sent­ing 21 per­cent of the entries. In con­trast, Spain’s suc­cess rate was 54 per­cent. Why was the rate of suc­cess so much lower for Greek oils than for other coun­tries?

Over­all, 49 per­cent of the total num­ber of EVOOs sub­mit­ted to the NYIOOC were rejected as hav­ing defects — roughly the same results as in 2014 and 2013. Defects are the red cards in organolep­tic judg­ing. You are imme­di­ately thrown out of the game.
See more: NYIOOC Results at a Glance
One might expect Span­ish and Ital­ian olive oils to have more defects due to the fruit fly and bad weather that dec­i­mated their yields this past sea­son, along with the Xylella fas­tidiosa dis­ease that has wreaked havoc across Italy and espe­cially in Apu­lia. But, in fact, Spain won NYIOOC awards with more than half their entries, and Italy was not far behind.

The Ital­ians and Span­ish olive oil sec­tors have long been lead­ers in organolep­tic analy­sis; they know exactly the taste pro­files that are more likely to win. They have con­ducted exten­sive research on the best grow­ing, har­vest­ing and milling meth­ods and choose care­fully which olive oils to enter in inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions.

Olive groves in Greece are small, on uneven ground, and not suit­able for mass pro­duc­tion. They are very bio-diverse with thyme and oregano grow­ing among the olive trees, sur­rounded by fruit trees and many vari­eties of wildlife, flow­ers and wild greens. These are ideal con­di­tions for pro­duc­ing com­plex taste char­ac­ter­is­tics and fruiti­ness.

Yet Greek EVOO pro­duc­ers have only recently begun to view organolep­tic awards as an inte­gral part of their mar­ket­ing strat­egy. This ris­ing inter­est was fur­ther spurred by the eco­nomic cri­sis. Greek pro­duc­ers now rec­og­nize the mar­ket­ing advan­tage and wide pub­lic­ity gained by receiv­ing an award from a high-pro­file com­pe­ti­tion and the con­sumer con­fi­dence it fos­ters.

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This is impor­tant espe­cially for the new breed of Greek olive oil entre­pre­neurs who appeal to a higher priced pre­mium mar­ket. The cost of sub­mit­ting an olive oil to a com­pe­ti­tion is a frac­tion of the cost of other forms of pub­lic­ity pro­grams to gain recog­ni­tion in a new mar­ket or expand an exist­ing one. Mean­while, con­sumers are increas­ingly look­ing for proof of qual­ity before pay­ing a higher price.

Dimitris Konstantinidis, Angelos Skaltsas and Nikos Skrekas at Elaiotechnia

Dim­itris Kon­stan­ti­ni­dis buys the same oil as the NYIOOC Gold Award-win­ning Mytho­cia by Papadopou­los and bot­tles it under a dif­fer­ent brand name, Olive Live.” He explained the steps in choos­ing a sup­plier: We con­duct exten­sive organolep­tic and chem­i­cal analy­sis before we make our choice. We then sub­mit olive oils to an organolep­tic panel before mak­ing the final deci­sion which ones to pur­chase. We also exam­ine the olive groves in order to ana­lyze the con­di­tions that pro­duce the best tast­ing olive oils and work closely with olive grow­ers and mills to ensure a con­sis­tent sup­ply of high-qual­ity EVOOs. This is why we have a lim­ited sup­ply and all our bot­tles are indi­vid­u­ally num­bered.”

Plilippe Poli

Another Gold Award win­ner at NYIOOC is Philip­pos Hel­lenic Goods. Owner Philippe Poli has trained in organolep­tic analy­sis in order to be able to choose the olive oils him­self. He trav­els exten­sively seek­ing out the best olive oils across Greece. If you want to intro­duce a new prod­uct or increase sales, you’d bet­ter be able to prove it is worth every dol­lar using every means at your dis­posal.

Being able to taste an olive oil and trans­port and store it in ideal con­di­tions is the best way to ensure the qual­ity I have the priv­i­lege of tast­ing at the mill is what I deliver to my cus­tomers,” Philip­pos said, as he headed off to super­vise the expan­sion of his state-of-the-art olive oil stor­age and bot­tling facil­ity on Aegina Island. His NYIOOC suc­cess is already hav­ing a pos­i­tive impact on demand for his recently-launched brand.

Vasilis Frantzolas

Vasilis Frant­zo­las is a Greek olive oil con­sul­tant, organolep­tic judge and edu­ca­tor who also con­firmed the neces­sity of the organolep­tic approach with the addi­tion of best grove man­age­ment prac­tices. He won a Gold Award at the 2015 NYIOOC, the sec­ond year in a row, and many more around the world, for his own brand Pelion Olive Farms.

In addi­tion, he is able to claim some credit for train­ing pro­duc­ers and millers in mak­ing high-qual­ity olive oils as well in proper grove man­age­ment prac­tices and organolep­tic eval­u­a­tion. Sev­eral pro­duc­ers he has trained won NYIOOC awards with Greek olive oils this year.

Frant­zo­las con­ducts reg­u­lar edu­ca­tional sem­i­nars: We go beyond the organolep­tic analy­sis encom­pass­ing the full cycle of pro­duc­ing award-win­ning olive oils. From the har­vest meth­ods to the mode of trans­porta­tion and proper con­di­tions before milling, the proper wash­ing of the olives, type of crusher, the length of malax­a­tion period and the amount of water used in the cen­trifuge all play a vital role in pro­duc­ing high qual­ity olive oils with well-bal­anced organolep­tic qual­i­ties,” he explained.

Greek olive oils are mainly from the Koroneiki vari­ety which tends to have low to medium fruiti­ness usu­ally due to the way it is processed. So, weak fruiti­ness may be one of the rea­sons for the low per­cent­age of Greek olive oils being awarded at the NYIOOC this year in rela­tion to the num­ber entries.” Frant­zo­las went on to explain: This is being looked at care­fully at the pro­duc­tion and har­vest­ing cycle, and Koroneiki and other vari­eties are begin­ning to win more and more awards so the over­all pic­ture will change dra­mat­i­cally in the years to come.”

I also asked Dim­itris Gyfteas of Agrovim who pro­duces the Ili­ada brand about the low per­cent­age of win­ning olive oils at NYIOOC this year. This was a dif­fi­cult year in our area of Kala­mata due to the cold weather. The Koroneiki vari­ety is very sen­si­tive to its envi­ron­ment so the early har­vest EVOOs have done much bet­ter in com­pe­ti­tions this year than the late har­vest EVOOs due to the frost. Once the fruit freezes it loses some of its more com­plex taste char­ac­ter­is­tics and fruiti­ness favored by the judges.”

Kostas Bal­afas of Moria Elea, when asked about the value of com­pe­ti­tions, had a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive: Win­ning awards will not open the mar­kets. For exam­ple, although Moria Elea brand was among the most awarded brands of Greek extra vir­gin olive oils in 2013, it did not help the brand to pen­e­trate the U.S. and U.K. mar­kets.”

This came as a sur­prise, so when I named pro­duc­ers who have reported that winning​awards did open new mar­kets for them, Bal­afas elab­o­rated his point: It is true you can sell a few thou­sand bot­tles of award-win­ning olive oils in spe­cialty stores, but the key to devel­op­ing our olive oil indus­try is to work together and cre­ate col­lec­tive mar­ket­ing cam­paigns in order to increase aware­ness and demand for Greek EVOO and gain greater access to shelf space in super­mar­kets.”

Even if Greek pro­duc­ers offer some of the best EVOO brands, it is very dif­fi­cult for them to com­pete with Ital­ian and Span­ish com­pa­nies who have built big dis­tri­b­u­tion and sales net­works many years ago and they con­trol the mar­ket. Thus, I believe Greek pro­duc­ers have to pro­mote pre­mium Greek extra vir­gin olive oil, and not just their own brand, more inten­sively in order for con­sumers to learn that this Greek prod­uct is of exquis­ite qual­ity.”

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Sevi­tel and Ekepe are keen to do just that. Sevi­tel, the Hel­lenic Asso­ci­a­tion of Indus­tries and Proces­sors of Olive Oil have recently received €7.2 mil­lion and EKEPE, (Hel­lenic Cen­ter for Exports and Pro­mo­tion of Olive Oil), have received €4.7 mil­lion from the E.U., the Greek gov­ern­ment, and from stake­hold­ers, in order to pro­mote Greek extra vir­gin olive oil and olives in North Amer­ica, China, Rus­sia, Nor­way, Aus­tralia, Switzer­land, Brazil, Alba­nia and Ser­bia.

Gior­gios Economou, direc­tor of Sevi­tel explained: This money will be used to pro­mote the high qual­ity of Greek olive oil and olives along with their Hel­lenic cul­tural his­tory. We want to raise the aware­ness on the high qual­ity of Greek olive oil inter­na­tion­ally in order to assist the Greek brands in their indi­vid­ual mar­ket­ing cam­paigns.”

Dimitra Ktenidou and Athanasios Makrigiannis

The province of Kozani in North West­ern Greece is home to one of the least known olive oil pro­duc­ing areas in Greece. The Imera Olive Oil Coop­er­a­tive is based in the vil­lage of Imeras which means lit­er­ally the same day.” Dim­i­tra Ktenidou explained the approach: We have insti­tuted an orga­nized har­vest­ing pro­gram in order to process the olives the same day they are picked,” in their mod­ern equipped olive mill com­pleted in 2006.

They pro­duce only early-har­vest olive oil under strict con­di­tions. One of their clients won a Gold Award at NYIOOC and they are keen to enter com­pe­ti­tions under their own brand that was recently awarded sil­ver and a bronze medal at Elaiotech­nia com­pe­ti­tion in Athens. They plan to enter more com­pe­ti­tions, includ­ing the NYIOOC next year.

Their local Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, Geor­gios Kas­a­pidis, has been one of the most vocal sup­port­ers for the imple­men­ta­tion of the EU label­ing reg­u­la­tion 432/2012. I will be report­ing on his lat­est ini­tia­tives to break the dead­lock in Greece for using this E.U. health claim reg­u­la­tion in my next arti­cle.

In con­clu­sion, there is a pos­i­tive con­sen­sus emerg­ing fol­low­ing the NYIOOC, on the value of sub­mit­ting Greek olive oil brands to organolep­tic com­pe­ti­tions along with col­lab­o­ra­tive mar­ket­ing cam­paigns. Despite the bleak eco­nomic out­look for Greece these days, the future looks bright for those who are pre­pared to strive for qual­ity. All indi­ca­tors are point­ing to a reawak­ened com­pet­i­tive spirit in Greece under the canopy of their ancient cul­tural iden­tity; the olive tree.

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