Winning at NYIOOC Part of Producer’s Quest to Improve Reputation of Tunisian EVOO

When Karim Fitouri found the reputation of Tunisian olive oil was an obstacle to exporting, he decided to improve his country's standing in the olive oil world.

Karim Fitouri
May. 31, 2022
By Lisa Anderson
Karim Fitouri

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For the sixth year run­ning, Tunisian pro­ducer Olivko has been rec­og­nized for its organic extra vir­gin olive oils at the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

Olivko scooped up five awards at this year’s edi­tion of the indus­try’s pre­mier qual­ity con­test, includ­ing three Gold and two Silver Awards.

I want to leave some­thing behind. I want to make some dif­fer­ence.- Karim Fitouri, Olivko

The com­pany earned the Gold Awards for its robust Chetoui, medium Chemlali and medium Wild Cultivar. Olivko also earned Silver Awards for a del­i­cate and medium Chetoui mono­va­ri­etals.

Karim Fitouri, the founder and owner of Olivko, told Olive Oil Times that the promi­nent emer­gence of Olivko onto the inter­na­tional stage mir­rors the rise of the Tunisian olive oil sec­tor as a whole.

See Also:Producer Profiles

In 2011, Fitouri was liv­ing in England when he real­ized that even though he was finan­cially com­fort­able, he was not happy.

You just flow with life, that’s it, just fol­low the route of life with­out mak­ing any changes; it was just the same,” he said.

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Fitouri said the need for change in his life coin­cided with the Jasmine Revolution in his native Tunisia.

After the 28-day pop­u­lar upris­ing, he observed a grow­ing mar­ket for fur­ni­ture in his home coun­try due to the con­se­quent con­struc­tion boom, which led to his deci­sion to import fur­ni­ture from China.

Ruminating on the way back to the air­port after vis­it­ing a friend in China to source fur­ni­ture, he con­cluded that it also would be a viable option to export food to China. This way, he could sup­port his country’s econ­omy and help the Tunisian peo­ple.

Fitouri con­sid­ered a few Tunisian food prod­ucts, includ­ing toma­toes and dates, but ulti­mately decided on olive oil.

At the time, I knew noth­ing about olive oil, although I was born in a coun­try that is the sec­ond-largest pro­ducer after the European Union,” he said.

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Photo: Olivko

Through a friend in China, Fitouri arranged a meet­ing with a buyer who, together with his daugh­ter, owned 17 super­mar­kets. Fitouri col­lected a large quan­tity of olive oil duty-free from a Tunisian mill and sent the oil to China via England.

The buyer was under the impres­sion that Fitouri was English and liked the price and the oil,” he remem­bered.

I thought, Wow, this is easy, this is great,’ ” Fitouri said with a laugh. But then the rug got pulled out from under his feet.

All of a sud­den, he asked me: Where is this oil from?’ Once I said the oil was from Tunisia, every­thing stopped,” Fitouri said.

It turned out the buyer had had a pre­vi­ous neg­a­tive expe­ri­ence with Tunisian olive oil and pre­ferred to import from Australia instead.

Fitouri said on the 13-hour flight back to England, he was in agony” think­ing about how the rep­u­ta­tion of Tunisian olive oil had soured the deal he came so close to secur­ing. He then found him­self faced with two choices.

Do I go back to England and call it a day, or do I go ahead and make a good name for Tunisia for me to sell my prod­uct and for other pro­duc­ers to sell their prod­uct?” he explained.

Fitouri opted for the sec­ond option and started study­ing the short­com­ings of Tunisian olive oil pro­duc­tion, a process that took him four years.

He found that Tunisia’s cli­mate was opti­mal for olive cul­ti­va­tion, and it had unique cul­ti­vars, so the North African coun­try had con­sid­er­able poten­tial as a pro­ducer.

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Photo: Olivko

Ultimately, he con­cluded that the main rea­son for Tunisian olive oil’s neg­a­tive rep­u­ta­tion inter­na­tion­ally was that 90 per­cent was exported unla­beled in bulk.

Fitouri said it was the gov­ern­men­t’s respon­si­bil­ity to improve the rep­u­ta­tion of a par­tic­u­lar country’s prod­ucts, real­iz­ing it would be a mam­moth task for an indi­vid­ual with lim­ited finan­cial resources — almost impos­si­ble,” he mused.

But I’m a man that doesn’t give up,” Fitouri added. He decided that a cost-effec­tive way for him as an indi­vid­ual to improve his country’s out­look was to pro­duce high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil and to enter com­pe­ti­tions.

He said that, based on his research, he knew the NYIOOC was the most well-rec­og­nized and trusted olive oil qual­ity com­pe­ti­tion glob­ally. He con­cluded that win­ning awards at the NYIOOC would improve Tunisia’s rep­u­ta­tion as a world-class pro­ducer.

Fitouri said that Olivko sourced olives from across Tunisia to pro­duce its extra vir­gin olive oil. He recalled the com­pa­ny’s first oil was pressed on December 21, 2016, and first entered the NYIOOC in April 2017.

That year, Olivko won a Gold Award – Tunisia’s first Gold Award at the com­pe­ti­tion – which was a con­fir­ma­tion for Fitouri that Tunisia was capa­ble of pro­duc­ing high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil.

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Photo: Olivko

Fitouri said he real­ized one pro­ducer could not make a dif­fer­ence on their own, so he approached oth­ers and explained that they had to work together. In 2018, he assisted some pro­duc­ers by pay­ing their entry fees.

That year, pro­duc­ers won 11 awards at the NYIOOC and have pro­gres­sively earned more each year, arriv­ing at 32 in 2022.

Along with total awards, the num­ber of Gold Awards has steadily increased each year, and the suc­cess rate of Tunisian pro­duc­ers at the com­pe­ti­tion has also trended upwards.

Fitouri said one of the high­lights was when Olivko won the Best in Class (since dis­con­tin­ued) at the 2019 NYIOOC for its Chemlali. This local cul­ti­var con­tributed to around 60 per­cent of Tunisian olive oil pro­duc­tion and, up to that stage, was sold in bulk in anonymity.

So that proved that the idea worked to make a name for Tunisian olive oil,” Fitouri said.

In addi­tion to his four-year study on Tunisian olive oil, Fitouri decided to start tak­ing courses through the Olive Oil Times Education Lab, which he said was a turn­ing point for him.

If it weren’t for that course, I don’t think any of this would have hap­pened,” Fitouri said. I learned a lot, and I met many inter­est­ing peo­ple. It has also changed the way I look at olive oils. Everything changed from that point. ”

Fitouri said Olivko sources olives from across Tunisia to pro­duce their organic extra vir­gin olive oils, which have won more than 100 awards over the years and are sold in the Middle East, India, Europe, Canada and the United States, among oth­ers.

The com­pany sup­plies extra vir­gin olive oil for pack­ing canned tuna and cre­ated Olivko Kids, an extra vir­gin olive oil for chil­dren.

Fitouri believes Tunisia could be on par with Italy, in terms of pro­duc­tion, in the next decade and hopes he can con­tinue play­ing his part in sup­port­ing the sec­tor.

I want to leave some­thing behind. I want to make some dif­fer­ence,” he con­cluded. I am happy because even if I die now, you can­not fake his­tory. It is there.”


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