` Rise in Tourism Forces Upgrades in Greek Olive Oil Mills - Olive Oil Times

Rise in Tourism Forces Upgrades in Greek Olive Oil Mills

Apr. 28, 2011
Costas Vasilopoulos

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Almost 300 of more than 2,500 olive oil mills in Greece are located in the region of Messinia at the south­west of con­ti­nen­tal Greece, mak­ing it the biggest olive oil pro­duc­ing region in the coun­try. The mostly small, fam­ily-owned enter­prises have lim­ited resources in an indus­try wrought with chal­lenges. Now they’ll have to cope with the lat­est threat to their prof­itabil­ity: tourism.

The tourism indus­try has always been a major con­trib­u­tor to the Greek econ­omy (account­ing for 18.2 per­cent of GDP), but noth­ing in the coun­try resem­bled the full-blown, world-class Costa Navarino”, a five-star hotel com­plex near the town of Pylos cov­er­ing almost 600 hectares of land capa­ble of pro­vid­ing accom­mo­da­tion for more than 1,000 guests in its full deployment.

But how is this related to the hum­ble olive fruit? To pro­duce the fine and palat­able olive juice, the olive dru­pes are processed using spe­cial machin­ery. Following a so called three-phase” pro­cess­ing method, the dru­pes are grinded to form a paste, then this paste is gen­tly soft­ened into spe­cial mix­ers to allow for the oil to sep­a­rate itself from the cells and con­cen­trate and finally the soft­ened paste is passed on to a cen­trifu­gal machine, the decanter. No added chem­i­cal sol­vents are needed any­where in the process.

The final prod­ucts are the olive oil, a solid waste (or pomace) which comes from the olive ker­nel and a liq­uid black residue which is what is left from the cen­trifu­ga­tion. This liq­uid residue con­tains heavy organic (but not toxic) sub­stances and has a char­ac­ter­is­tic unpleas­ant odor. The residue is then mixed with lime to reduce its organic load and is finally piped to streams and brooks. But streams and brooks fall into the sea and this black sub­stance is not some­thing that tourists want to swim through or even smell. There have been sev­eral com­plaints about this around the Costa Navarino resort, alert­ing the tourism industry.

Now local author­i­ties are forc­ing sev­eral of the oil mills to change their method of three-phase pro­cess­ing to the new two-phase pro­cess­ing, where the solid waste and the liq­uid residue are mixed together to form a semi-fluid pulp. This is the pre­ferred method for most other big olive oil pro­duc­ers like Spain, but it too has its draw­backs: it is dif­fi­cult to process the semi-liq­uid pulp and it requires greater amounts of energy.

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Nothing falls into the sea any­more but the new method has other seri­ous impli­ca­tions: the olive oil mills have to change or update their core equip­ment and adapt their energy sys­tems for the two-phase oper­at­ing mode. Also, both the solid waste of the three-phase process and the semi-fluid pulp of the two-phase process are sold to spe­cial refiner­ies that can extract sec­ond grade oil from them; but while the solid waste costs about 30 euros a ton, the pulp costs a mere 3 euros a ton.

All said, the oil plant own­ers have to cope with some seri­ous money loss at a time that the price of bulk olive oil has dra­mat­i­cally dropped in Greece ( to approx­i­mately 2,30 euros a kilo). In time, and due to the antic­i­pated rapid tourist devel­op­ment of the region, more and more oil plants will have to switch to two-phase caus­ing some to won­der how Messinia pro­duc­ers will be able to main­tain elu­sive profits.



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