`An Interview with Maximiliano Arteaga Blanco - Olive Oil Times

An Interview with Maximiliano Arteaga Blanco

Oct. 25, 2012

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Maximiliano Arteaga Blanco, co-man­ager of Arco Agroalimentaria

Deception works out cheap for some oil com­pa­nies.

Practically nobody in the olive oil sec­tor is unaware of the work done by Arco Agroalimentaria. In the space of just a few years, this young com­pany has suc­ceeded in posi­tion­ing itself as an inter­na­tional bench­mark offer­ing all sorts of ser­vices designed to help pro­duc­ers achieve the best qual­ity oils and gain the max­i­mum profit from their plan­ta­tions.

The road to its cur­rent posi­tion has not been easy, par­tic­u­larly bear­ing in mind that Spanish pro­duc­ers have always been ret­i­cent about con­tract­ing the ser­vices of an exter­nal con­sul­tancy firm. Nonetheless, once the desired results are obtained, nobody ques­tions the worth of these ser­vices again.

Maximiliano Arteaga, Maxi to all those who appre­ci­ate him, is a good friend over and above all else. Or at least that is how those of us that give life to this mag­a­zine see him. It was thanks to him and his insep­a­ra­ble part­ner, César Cólliga, that we dis­cov­ered the mys­ter­ies of oil tast­ing. This hap­pened many, many years before we decided to embark on this edi­to­r­ial project which, by the way, they have uncon­di­tion­ally sup­ported right from the very begin­ning. A fact for which we will be eter­nally grate­ful.

At present, apart from our bonds of friend­ship, we are also united by a close pro­fes­sional rela­tion­ship, that is reflected in each and every edi­tion of our Tasting Panel” sec­tion, in which they inde­pen­dently and rig­or­ously analyse each of the oils sent to their lab­o­ra­tory.


We were prac­ti­cally wit­nesses to the birth of the com­pany they jointly man­age, Arco Agroalimentaria, and since then we have seen them grow unstop­pably to obtain well-deserved national and inter­na­tional recog­ni­tion. And if we have not yet done so, we would like to take advan­tage of this arti­cle to offer them our heart­felt con­grat­u­la­tions on their suc­cesses and to encour­age them to con­tinue meet­ing both per­sonal and pro­fes­sional goals.

Whenever an arti­cle or a ser­vice appears in the mar­ket, it tends to do so for two main rea­sons: either to respond to a demand, or to gen­er­ate a new need. In the case of Arco Agroalimentaria, what drove you to cre­ate the com­pany?

Arco Agroalimentaria was founded back in the year 2000 with the aim of pro­vid­ing tech­ni­cal con­sul­tancy ser­vices to the var­i­ous oil-pro­duc­ing com­pa­nies. In this respect, both César and I already had exten­sive train­ing in agri­cul­ture and food tech­nol­ogy. We also had a cer­tain amount of knowl­edge about the ini­tial phases in the olive oil elab­o­ra­tion process, as both of our fam­i­lies have always man­aged their own pro­duc­tion.
In prin­ci­ple, our activ­ity mainly resolved around pro­vid­ing train­ing to all sorts of com­pa­nies and coop­er­a­tives related to the oil sec­tor. Among the sub­jects addressed, the most fre­quent revolved around olive cul­ti­va­tion, elab­o­ra­tion, sen­so­r­ial analy­sis and qual­ity.

After a time, we grad­u­ally began to work towards increas­ing com­pany prof­itabil­ity, by opti­mis­ing mill and bodega man­age­ment.

In real­ity, to answer your ques­tion, the need already existed, even though the sec­tor had not yet realised it. Fortunately, this lat­ter sit­u­a­tion is chang­ing and more and more com­pa­nies are turn­ing to out­sourced con­sul­tants with a view to becom­ing more com­pet­i­tive.

What types of ser­vices does the com­pany offer? For whom are they designed?

At present, Arco Agroalimentaria offers a broad range of ser­vices which, in all cases adapt to the spe­cific needs of each indi­vid­ual client. We are there­fore flex­i­ble enough to set all sorts of projects in motion. For instance, we can help a com­pany that doesn’t have its own pro­duc­tion or instal­la­tions to cre­ate a brand and put an oil on sale. Or, on the other end of the scale, we are also capa­ble of devel­op­ing big ini­tia­tives, such as those involv­ing hun­dreds of hectares of olive groves, a mill and instal­la­tions of its own. There is a detailed list of the ser­vices we offer on the com­pany web­site (www.arcoagroalimentaria.com). These include the cre­ation and train­ing of pan­els of tasters, spe­cialised train­ing for com­pa­nies, the agri­cul­tural super­vi­sion of the crop, man­age­ment of the elab­o­ra­tion process and of the bodega itself, qual­ity con­trol, the elab­o­ra­tion of coupages, the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of oils for spe­cialised com­pe­ti­tions and guides, descrip­tive sen­so­r­ial analy­sis, and the selec­tion of oils for sale and assess­ment.

You have already given us an overview of the expe­ri­ence both you and César con­tributed to the early phase of your com­pany. What expe­ri­ence has the com­pany given you?

Well, apart from our tech­ni­cal uni­ver­sity edu­ca­tion and our prac­ti­cal knowl­edge about crop man­age­ment, we also con­tributed our expe­ri­ence as tast­ing panel mem­bers.

After 12 years of work, log­i­cally this accu­mu­lated expe­ri­ence is now far more exten­sive. The fact of hav­ing acted as panel heads in the cre­ation and train­ing of 6 ana­lyt­i­cal taste pan­els in Spain and another in Portugal, has allowed us to delve deeply into the sen­so­r­ial analy­sis method­ol­ogy, dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing between the pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive attrib­utes of the oils and iden­ti­fy­ing the var­i­ous organolep­tic pro­files expressed by each of the olive vari­etals.

On the other hand, our par­tic­i­pa­tion as expert tasters in inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions has made it pos­si­ble for us to build a global vision of the oils pro­duced around the world.

Since its foun­da­tion, Arco Agroalimentaria has attempted to sup­port numer­ous clients with very dif­fer­ent pro­files. In this sense, all of that expe­ri­ence and know-how” helps us to opti­mize projects on a daily basis.

One thing is to observe an eco­nomic sec­tor from the out­side, but it is quite a dif­fer­ent mat­ter to do it from the inside out. Now that you form an active part of the oil sec­tor, what is your view of Spanish extra vir­gin olive oil? What have you learned since con­ceiv­ing of the com­pany?

Personally, my cur­rent per­cep­tion tells me that the sec­tor has under­gone an impor­tant evo­lu­tion, both from the point of view of the oils obtained, and that of their sale in inter­na­tional mar­kets. It is clear that the oil indus­try is becom­ing more and more pro­fes­sional, which is fun­da­men­tal if it wants to be com­pet­i­tive, prof­itable and, above all, if the farmer wishes to live off the olive tree as well as he did in the past.

Nonetheless, even if some deci­sive steps have been taken, there is still a lot to be done in improv­ing the aver­age qual­ity of the oils, while also mod­ernising the sales struc­tures.

In this time, I have also learned that there is lit­tle inter­est in inform­ing the con­sumer about the var­i­ous qual­i­ties and the dif­fer­ent oil types that exist. The con­sumer has the right to choose whichever prod­uct best sat­is­fies his needs or pref­er­ences, but always from a knowl­edge­able stand­point and not based on a lack of infor­ma­tion. Is it so hard to explain that an olive oil is the prod­uct of an indus­trial process of chem­i­cal refine­ment and that an extra vir­gin is the nat­ural juice of the olive?

If qual­ity should be the ulti­mate goal of any vir­gin olive oil pro­ducer, how can your com­pany con­tribute to reach­ing this goal?

By apply­ing a rig­or­ous pro­to­col that begins in the groves, where we deter­mine the opti­mal moment of ripeness in order to obtain the desired qual­ity level. Subsequently, we super­vise each of the elab­o­ra­tion process phases. The oils obtained in this way are stored in deposits and after­wards the nec­es­sary coupages are made, thus pro­duc­ing a series of batches that adapt to the pref­er­ences of the tar­get mar­kets.

Do you think that vir­gin olive oil pro­duc­ers are open to inno­va­tion in order to achieve this qual­ity you men­tioned? Which aspects do you think have they suc­ceeded in improv­ing and which still need work?

In my opin­ion, when it comes to machin­ery and equip­ment, the pro­ducer is open to inno­va­tion. However, when it comes to human resources, pro­duc­ers are still ret­i­cent about plac­ing them­selves in the hands of a tech­ni­cal con­sul­tant for advice and assess­ment through­out the entire pro­duc­tion process and who will help increase their company’s prof­itabil­ity. A sim­i­lar sce­nario is applic­a­ble to those con­sul­tants respon­si­ble for other aspects as impor­tant as sales and mar­ket­ing.

Unfortunately, in the major­ity of cases, the pro­duc­ers are look­ing for instant prof­itabil­ity. A bit of a para­dox when you con­sider that these pro­fes­sion­als in par­tic­u­lar should know that you have to sow seeds before you can reap the fruits.

This is a less com­mon sit­u­a­tion in Italy, where even the small­est oil pro­duc­ers use exter­nal con­sul­tants.

Speaking of Italy, it has always been a world­wide point of ref­er­ence for qual­ity. If Spanish oils now offer com­pa­ra­ble qual­i­ties, why hasn’t Spain man­aged to posi­tion itself in the tra­di­tional European and North American mar­kets?

Indeed, these mar­kets have always been dom­i­nated by the Italian brands. In this sense, we must remem­ber that the sim­ple fact of mak­ing a qual­ity prod­uct does not guar­an­tee reach­ing the inter­na­tional con­sumer. For this, qual­ity is a nec­es­sary con­di­tion, but not suf­fi­cient in itself.

In any case, the efforts being made by Spanish com­pa­nies to improve the afore­men­tioned qual­ity, mar­ket­ing and sales are lead­ing to their oils gain­ing ground from the Italian com­peti­tors bit by bit. The excel­lent results obtained through­out recent years in inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions, in which we have even sur­passed the Italian firms, is enabling our oils to finally occupy the posi­tion they deserve.

In my opin­ion, we are now shak­ing off the infe­ri­or­ity com­plex accu­mu­lated over the years and which pre­vented us from real­is­ing that we were equally capa­ble of obtain­ing the same qual­ity –or even bet­ter qual­ity- than that offered by the Italians. At present, all we have left to do is to learn to sell our prod­uct more effec­tively.

It is pre­cisely some of these mar­kets in which Spain has not yet suc­ceeded in posi­tion­ing itself that are peri­od­i­cally scan­dalised by increas­ingly fre­quent cases of fraud, at least in the media. What do you think is the real scope of this prac­tice? How do you think it affects hon­est pro­duc­ers? And the con­sumer?

I don’t know what the real scope of this fraud­u­lent prac­tice is, although it is clear to me that, like in any other game, the rules always need to be respected. In Spain, not only are there some com­pa­nies that do not stick to the rules, but which are not cat­e­gor­i­cally pun­ished for this prac­tice, and rather fre­quently repeat the same type of infrac­tions over and over. Deception works out cheap for them.

Nor am I aware of the num­ber of con­trols car­ried out by the admin­is­tra­tions, but it is clear that they do not meet the objec­tives the pro­duc­tion sec­tor would like. If fraud is detected, it should be sanc­tioned, as the prof­its obtained from this type of prac­tice are higher than the dam­age caused by the sanc­tion.

In these cases those who lose out are always the same. That is, the hon­est pro­duc­ers who strive to com­ply with reg­u­la­tions and come up against dis­loyal com­pe­ti­tion which, bit by bit, ends up chip­ping away at their will to improve. On the other hand, the con­sumers also pay the con­se­quences as they are pay­ing for a qual­ity level that does not actu­ally cor­re­spond to the real­ity. Thus dis­trust is gen­er­ated that ends up affect­ing the entire sec­tor.

Thinking about what you’ve just said, do you think there is any dif­fer­ence between the gourmet con­sumers and those who buy their vir­gin olive oil in the nor­mal points of sale?

Yes, there are dif­fer­ences. The gourmet con­sumer is becom­ing more and more demand­ing when it comes to qual­ity. Certain brands or vari­etals are already being demanded, in which they find the sen­so­r­ial pro­files and attrib­utes they like. On the other hand, among the con­sumers who visit the habit­ual points of sale, in the major­ity of cases price is the main cri­te­ria for pur­chase in detri­ment to qual­ity.

Maximiliano Arteaga

Born in Madrid on August 24th 1973, Maxi has a degree in Chemical Sciences from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, where he spe­cialised in Agricultural Chemistry.

Just after fin­ish­ing his stud­ies, he started work­ing for a com­pany in the oil sec­tor, specif­i­cally in the sec­tion of Near Infrared (NIR) equip­ment applied to the vir­gin olive oil elab­o­ra­tion process. Nevertheless, this was not where his rela­tion­ship with this prod­uct began, given that his fam­ily had pre­vi­ously man­aged some estates in Toledo. In this province, together with César Cólloga, he also owns his own groves.

His work as a taster on an ana­lyt­i­cal taste panel also stands out on his CV, a posi­tion he occu­pied before cre­at­ing Arco Agroalimentaria. After found­ing the com­pany, he started to work train­ing other com­pa­nies and taste pan­els.

It was pre­cisely these apti­tudes that allowed him to par­tic­i­pate as an expert taster in var­i­ous inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions, Just this year alone, he has col­lab­o­rated in those orga­nized by the German mag­a­zine, Der Feinschmecker, the Italian guide Flos Olei, Oil China trade fair, as well as the Italian fairs, Sol and Medoliva.

Maxi also con­tributes to the Taste Panel” sec­tion of OLIVARAMA, offer­ing a com­plete sen­so­r­ial analy­sis of the oils.

Up close and per­sonal

An extra vir­gin: The high­est qual­ity oil, the one that is still on the olive tree.
An olive vari­etal: All of them, if and when they are well made.
An olive grove land­scape: The olive groves of Ibiza.
A restau­rant that takes a spe­cial inter­est in olive oil: El Olivar de Moratalla (Murcia).
A dish with extra vir­gin olive oil: Bread with a freshly extracted good extra vir­gin.
A wish for extra vir­gin olive oil: For it to occupy the posi­tion it deserves.

Olivarama arti­cles also appear in Olivarama mag­a­zine and are not edited by Olive Oil Times.

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