Leading Tunisian Bulk Olive Oil Exporter Pivots to Adding Value

The exporter seeks to expand shipments across Asia, while investing in sustainable farming to promote soil water retention capabilities at home.
Selim Belkhodja, Bulla Regia's director
By Wasim Shahzad
Aug. 2, 2023 10:32 UTC

Despite overt ref­er­ences to the past, the peo­ple behind Bulla Regia are look­ing to the future of Tunisian olive oil exports. 

Bulla Regia is the Roman name of a his­toric city in north­west Tunisia, which flour­ished thanks to its agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion and exports, includ­ing olives. 

The Middle East region holds immense poten­tial for the con­sump­tion of olive oil, and we believe there are great oppor­tu­ni­ties for growth and mar­ket pen­e­tra­tion.- Hédi Belkhodja, gen­eral man­ager, Bulla Regia

The inspi­ra­tion behind start­ing Bulla Regia stemmed from our posi­tion as a leader in the export of Tunisian olive oil in bulk,” Hédi Belkhodja, Bulla Regia’s gen­eral man­ager, told Olive Oil Times. 

Recognizing the poten­tial to cre­ate added value and empha­size the ori­gin of our prod­uct, we decided to launch Bulla Regia as a brand that show­cases the excep­tional qual­ity and her­itage of Tunisian olive oil,” he added.

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The com­pany takes advan­tage of the region’s long his­tory of olive grow­ing. Belkhodja said gen­er­a­tions of skilled olive grow­ers have care­fully tended to the ancient olive trees, pass­ing down time-honed tech­niques.

From the land to the mill and now to the bot­tling, each gen­er­a­tion has accu­mu­lated know-how and has passed it on to the next gen­er­a­tion to bet­ter advance in this field,” he said. Our last step was the cre­ation of our fac­tory and pack­ag­ing brand Bulla Regia in 2016.”

The com­pany said it exports about 20,000 tons of olive oil annu­ally, mostly to European cus­tomers. 

Still, Belkhodja said one of the company’s main chal­lenges was dis­tin­guish­ing its prod­uct on the crowded inter­na­tional mar­ket­place and revers­ing the long-held par­a­digm of Tunisia as a bulk olive oil exporter.


Hédi Belkhodja

One of the most sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges was estab­lish­ing and pro­mot­ing Tunisian ori­gin as a dis­tin­guish­ing fac­tor in the global olive oil mar­ket,” he said. Another chal­lenge was meet­ing the require­ments of mass dis­tri­b­u­tion, which required care­ful plan­ning and invest­ment in infra­struc­ture and oper­a­tional capa­bil­i­ties.”

From its start in 2016, Belkhodja said Bulla Regia had come a long way and made sig­nif­i­cant strides in var­i­ous aspects of its busi­ness. We have invested in enhanc­ing the effi­ciency of our pro­duc­tion processes and improv­ing the qual­ity of our infra­struc­ture,” he said.

Along with tra­di­tional European mar­kets, Belkhodja said the com­pany is quickly expand­ing into emerg­ing olive oil mar­kets in Asia.

We have suc­cess­fully diver­si­fied our mar­ket pres­ence and cul­ti­vated cus­tomer loy­alty, allow­ing us to reach a broader cus­tomer base in the United States, European Union, Qatar, Kenya, Nicaragua, Japan and the United Kingdom,” he said. 

We are pleased with our progress but remain ambi­tious to increase export vol­umes, expand oper­a­tions, improve dis­tri­b­u­tion net­works and explore new mar­ket oppor­tu­ni­ties,” Belkhodja added. The Middle East region holds immense poten­tial for the con­sump­tion of olive oil, and we believe there are great oppor­tu­ni­ties for growth and mar­ket pen­e­tra­tion.”

Like many other olive pro­duc­ing-coun­tries across the Mediterranean, Tunisia has faced a severe drought threat­en­ing its mostly rain­fed groves.

The scarcity of water due to the drought has affected the olive trees’ growth and pro­duc­tiv­ity, result­ing in a decrease in olive oil pro­duc­tion,” he said. Moreover, the impact of the drought on the qual­ity of olives and olive oil can­not be ignored. The stress caused by water scarcity can affect the over­all fla­vor and char­ac­ter­is­tics of the extra vir­gin olive oil.”

Bulla Regia was no excep­tion to the adverse effects of the drought. The drought has affected our busi­ness, both in terms of demand, price and, more impor­tantly, qual­ity of Tunisian olive oil on the inter­na­tional mar­ket,” he said.


The com­pany has taken mea­sures to adapt to the drought and mit­i­gate some of its adverse impacts on its olive oil pro­duc­tion. 

Bulla Regia adheres to sus­tain­able and organic farm­ing prac­tices, which pro­mote soil health and nat­ural water reten­tion capa­bil­i­ties,” Belkhodja said. These prac­tices include com­post­ing, crop rota­tion and min­i­mal use of chem­i­cal inputs. By fos­ter­ing a healthy ecosys­tem within our olive groves, we enhance the resilience of our trees in the face of water scarcity.”

Despite the chal­lenges posed by drought, Bulla Regia said it remains com­mit­ted to main­tain­ing the high­est qual­ity stan­dards. The com­pany earned a Silver Award at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

It was a proud recog­ni­tion of our hard work, ded­i­ca­tion, and com­mit­ment to pro­duc­ing high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil,” Belkhodja said. These awards hold sig­nif­i­cant mean­ing for our busi­ness. They serve as a pow­er­ful endorse­ment of the qual­ity and excel­lence of our prod­uct. It helps dif­fer­en­ti­ate Bulla Regia from com­peti­tors, enhanc­ing our brand rep­u­ta­tion and cred­i­bil­ity.”

Winning awards pro­vides a com­pelling mar­ket­ing story that can be lever­aged in adver­tis­ing cam­paigns, pro­mo­tional mate­ri­als and online plat­forms, fur­ther enhanc­ing brand vis­i­bil­ity and reach,” he added. 

This recog­ni­tion can attract new cus­tomers who value pre­mium prod­ucts and are will­ing to pay a pre­mium price,” Belkhodja con­tin­ued. It is our hope that these awards will strengthen our posi­tion as a top-qual­ity pro­ducer, attract new cus­tomers and grow our busi­ness.”

In the 2022/23 crop year, Tunisia pro­duced 180,000 tons of olive oil, well below the five-year aver­age of 228,000 tons but higher than recent off-years’ in the nat­ural alter­nate bear­ing cycle of the olive tree.

However, the United States Department of Agriculture pre­dicts pro­duc­tion will rebound to 250,000 tons in 2023/24. Based on his obser­va­tions, Belkhodja agrees that reach­ing the USDA esti­mate would be pos­si­ble. 

Fortunately, this time, it rained at cru­cial times, which helped to improve the sit­u­a­tion,” he said. Under the right con­di­tions, I actu­ally think it is pos­si­ble to reach 250,000 tons as pre­dicted by the USDA. In nor­mal con­di­tions, it should be closer to 200,000 to 220,000 tons.”


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