Upstart Belgian Importer Stakes Claim on the World Stage

The founders of ASUR source award-winning oils from Greece to sell in Belgium and the Netherlands, facing challenges associated with nascent olive oil markets.

Tom Suring co-founded ASUR to bring high-quality extra virgin olive oil to Belgium and the Netherlands. (Photo: ASUR)
By Wasim Shahzad
Jan. 3, 2024 18:18 UTC
393
Tom Suring co-founded ASUR to bring high-quality extra virgin olive oil to Belgium and the Netherlands. (Photo: ASUR)

Known for its choco­late, the European Commission and site of the famed Battle of Waterloo, Belgium and extra vir­gin olive oil are far from syn­ony­mous.

However, the eighth-largest coun­try (by pop­u­la­tion) in the 27-mem­ber European Union is also the eighth-largest olive oil con­sumer in the bloc and the third-largest non-pro­duc­ing con­sumer coun­try.

The mar­ket for high-qual­ity olive oil in Belgium and the Netherlands is indeed a spe­cial­ized niche, pre­sent­ing a unique set of chal­lenges when it comes to acquir­ing clients- Tom Suring, founder, ASUR

According to International Olive Council data, Belgium’s 11.7 mil­lion pop­u­la­tion con­sumed an esti­mated 13,000 tons of olive oil in the 2022/23 crop year. Of non-pro­duc­ing coun­tries, only Germany and the Netherlands, which are sig­nif­i­cantly more pop­u­lated, poured more olive oil.

Home to siz­able dias­po­ras from across the Mediterranean – Belgians of Italian and Moroccan descent make up two of the three largest groups of immi­grants and their descen­dants – it is per­haps not so sur­pris­ing that the Belgian importer ASUR man­aged to source one of the world’s best extra vir­gin olive oils in the 2022/23 crop year.

See Also:Producer Profiles

Our olive oil is crafted from olives grown in Greece, pre­cisely within the vicin­ity of Ancient Olympia,” founder and owner Tom Suring told Olive Oil Times. Here, the art of olive oil pro­duc­tion thrives through a process char­ac­ter­ized by metic­u­lous atten­tion to detail.”

We use olives from care­fully cho­sen olive groves, which are sub­ject to year-round scrutiny by our agron­o­mist, who ensures that the qual­ity of our final prod­uct remains uncom­pro­mised,” he added.

The idea behind ASUR, which demon­strated its qual­ity by win­ning a Gold Award for its medium-inten­sity Koroneiki at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, came after Suring trav­eled across south­ern Europe and real­ized the dif­fer­ence between the freshly pro­duced extra vir­gin olive oil he sam­pled there com­pared to what he was used to pur­chas­ing in the super­mar­ket back home.

When trav­el­ing in south­ern Europe, I could taste the dif­fer­ence in qual­ity and real­ized that the key to repli­cat­ing the good fla­vors at home lay in using a supe­rior oil full of authen­tic fla­vors that also deliv­ered on its health ben­e­fits,” he said.

Our objec­tive was clear,” Suring added. We wanted to offer more than a basic extra vir­gin olive oil. We aimed to pro­vide a rich, fla­vor­ful olive oil that enhanced the dishes it was used in and could stand on its own.”

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-production-europe-upstart-belgian-importer-stakes-claim-on-the-world-stage-olive-oil-times

(Photo: ASUR)

Along with his found­ing part­ners, Suring finally set­tled on sourc­ing ASUR extra vir­gin olive oil from the Peloponnese after sev­eral vis­its and inde­pen­dent con­fir­ma­tion that some of the local farm­ers with whom they planned to work were pro­duc­ing con­sis­tently high-qual­ity oils.

We found part­ners with the qual­ity we looked for,” he said. Here, we can buy from local pro­duc­ers, and our experts fol­low up and ensure that the qual­ity is up to our stan­dards.”

We have vis­ited this region sev­eral times, and being sure that this area pro­duces very high qual­ity, we could make the extra vir­gin olive oil that gives the spe­cific ASUR taste,” Suring added.

Like many pro­duc­ers in Greece, Suring said the 2023/24 crop year on the Peloponnese was not as good as the pre­vi­ous har­vest.

The 2023 sea­son in Peloponnese is going rel­a­tively well,” he said. We see some chal­lenges, but these are mostly related to quan­tity, not qual­ity, espe­cially for those that har­vest early. Our olives have already been har­vested, and we are now work­ing on blend­ing the batches to obtain the best pos­si­ble result for our clients.”

Overall, Suring cited water scarcity and increas­ingly unpre­dictable cli­mate con­di­tions as two of the most sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges faced by the farm­ers from whom he sources olive oil on the Peloponnese.

Fortunately, our groves enjoy the advan­tage of being placed in areas rang­ing from 300 to 400 meters inland,” he said. This ele­vated posi­tion­ing has, so far, shielded us from the water scarcity con­cerns.”

Advertisement
Advertisement

While ASUR employs a team of experts to blend its extra vir­gin olive oils, Suring said one of the main chal­lenges for importers in Belgium and the Netherlands is expand­ing extra vir­gin olive oil from a niche to a main­stream mar­ket.

The mar­ket for high-qual­ity olive oil in Belgium and the Netherlands is indeed a spe­cial­ized niche, pre­sent­ing a unique set of chal­lenges when it comes to acquir­ing clients,” he said. In the first year, we suc­cess­fully estab­lished rela­tions with renowned restau­rants, hotels and gourmet stores. This year, which is the sec­ond year, we are well on track to increas­ing last year’s sales.”

Like many pro­duc­ers and importers in emerg­ing olive oil mar­kets, Suring said one of the biggest chal­lenges the brand faces is con­sumer edu­ca­tion regard­ing how high-qual­ity olive oil should taste.

In North Europe, there is a lot of defec­tive olive oil sold because of a lack of knowl­edge about how a good and healthy olive oil should smell and taste,” Suring said. Since the price is low, clients and cus­tomers accept this and pur­chase this olive oil.”

Echoing the thoughts of many pro­duc­ers inter­viewed by Olive Oil Times from every cor­ner of the olive oil world, Suring said olive oil must fol­low in the foot­steps of wine to develop a will­ing­ness to pay for high qual­ity.

Interestingly, while con­sumers would­n’t set­tle for defec­tive wine, they accept olive oil with defects,” he said. However, I believe we are start­ing to wit­ness a shift, and it does remind me of the trans­for­ma­tion we have seen in the cof­fee indus­try.”

I have also noticed the emer­gence of sev­eral young olive oil brands in the mar­ket, and I gen­uinely believe the mar­ket is big enough,” Suring added. What is impor­tant for me is the ongo­ing mis­sion of edu­cat­ing and con­vinc­ing clients and con­sumers about the value of invest­ing in good qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil. It is grat­i­fy­ing to see when our clients trans­form into our biggest pro­mot­ers.”

Along with high qual­ity, which Suring said is con­firmed by win­ning awards from inter­na­tional qual­ity com­pe­ti­tions, ASUR also empha­sizes pre­sen­ta­tion, invest­ing in aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing pack­ag­ing for its bot­tles and tins.

We also made a delib­er­ate choice to invest in a beau­ti­ful bot­tle that could find its place at every table,” Suring said. High-qual­ity and aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing prod­ucts sep­a­rate ASUR from other brands on the mar­ket.”

Looking ahead, Suring said he plans to expand ASUR’s oper­a­tions into more coun­tries but, for now, remains focused on solid­i­fy­ing its mar­ket posi­tion in Belgium and the Netherlands.

In the next five to 10 years, we antic­i­pate sig­nif­i­cant growth, solid­i­fy­ing our posi­tion as a thriv­ing com­pany with a sub­stan­tial turnover in Belgium and the Netherlands and expand­ing into other European coun­tries, includ­ing the Scandinavian coun­tries,” Suring said

However, in the upcom­ing year, our pri­mary empha­sis remains on strength­en­ing our mar­ket posi­tion in Belgium and the Netherlands,” he added. As a rel­a­tively young com­pany, we need to make sure that we build a solid base before expand­ing into new mar­kets.”


Share this article

Advertisement
Advertisement

Related Articles