Chilean Olive Oils on the Rise, but Challenges Await

Production hit a record high and domestic consumption is slowly growing, but some involved with the sector believe a few of the country’s largest challenges still lie ahead.

Carola Dümmer Medina
Nov. 7, 2018
By Daniel Dawson
Carola Dümmer Medina

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Chilean olive oil pro­duc­tion fin­ished at a record high out­put of 22,000 tons in 2018, accord­ing to data from ChileOliva.

Extra vir­gin olive oil is a prod­uct that you need to under­stand. It’s not some­thing that is easy to buy, such as rice or pasta, you really have to get to know the prod­uct.- Carola Dümmer Medina

For Carola Dümmer Medina, a judge at the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, a jour­nal­ist for the wine club mag­a­zine Revista Placeres and the founder of Olivalovers, this record yield seems to be a plateau for the Southern Hemisphere’s third largest olive oil producer.

I don’t think we will get many more hectares or many more liters of oil,” she told Olive Oil Times. I think now we’re in a state of con­sol­i­da­tion, more so than growth.”

While Dümmer Medina has not per­son­ally been involved with the pro­duc­tion side of the Chilean sec­tor for the past few years — she now mostly focuses on edu­ca­tion and pro­mo­tion with her new ini­tia­tive — a sim­i­lar sen­ti­ment is echoed through­out the rest of the sector. 

Increasing the pro­duc­tion of olive oil is one of the main chal­lenges of the Chilean indus­try,” Gabriela Moglia, the gen­eral man­ager of ChileOliva, told Olive Oil Times. ChileOliva is devel­op­ing a research project that aims to gen­er­ate a pre­dic­tive model that will allow pro­duc­ers to iden­tify the main fac­tors that influ­ence production.”

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Part of what this model will help Chilean pro­duc­ers deal with is the cli­mate, which can be unpre­dictable and has pre­vi­ously dev­as­tated olive yields. Previous har­vest sea­sons, which have seen olive oil pro­duc­tion hover between 15,000 and 19,000 tons, have been plagued by drought, early frosts, wild­fires and landslides. 

There have been bet­ter con­di­tions for olive cul­ti­va­tion at the national level this year, specif­i­cally the greater avail­abil­ity of water present in sec­tors that had been affected by severe droughts in recent years,” Moglia said.

Claudio Lovazzano is the head of mar­ket­ing at Olisur, a Chilean olive oil pro­ducer and exporter. He agrees that bet­ter weather this year has helped with the har­vest and expects that over­all pro­duc­tion could increase if the weather remains a benev­o­lent ally.

In our case, we expect pro­duc­tion to increase, although we know it will only be slightly,” he told Olive Oil Times. In the rest of the coun­try, it is likely that Chile will increase its pro­duc­tion. We have seen good weather con­di­tions that pos­i­tively affect all olive oil producers.”

However, these nat­ural phe­nom­ena are out of pro­duc­ers’ con­trol and Dümmer Medina prefers to focus her efforts on fac­tors that can be con­trolled, which is why she has started her new ini­tia­tive, Olivalovers. 

What I want to do most is to edu­cate the con­sumers,” she said. Extra vir­gin olive oil is a prod­uct that you need to under­stand. It’s not some­thing that is easy to buy, such as rice or pasta, you really have to get to know the product.”

Part of what she does at Olivalovers is to go around and host tast­ing pan­els, teach­ing con­sumers and, occa­sion­ally retail­ers, how to dif­fer­en­ti­ate high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil from infe­rior grades. 

For Dümmer Medina, who is also an instruc­tor at the Olive Oil Times Education Lab Sommelier Certification Program, two of the biggest chal­lenges cur­rently fac­ing the sec­tor are increas­ing both domes­tic and inter­na­tional con­sump­tion of Chilean oil as well as crack­ing down on fraud. 

Carola Dümmer Medina

She has been involved with the indus­try from its incep­tion, orga­niz­ing ChileOliva’s first press con­fer­ence dur­ing the 2003/04 har­vest season.

The amount of con­sump­tion then was 250 ml per capita,” she said. It was very low. Now we’re get­ting to 750 ml per capita, which is bet­ter but still quite low.”

There are many pro­duc­ers mak­ing things right,” she added. But we still need to get to the next level, and be able to sell high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil at the same prices that Spanish or Italian com­pa­nies are sell­ing in mar­kets such as the U.S. or Asia.”

Education, Dümmer Medina repeats, is the best way for­ward. As a jour­nal­ist at Revista Placeres, she writes a monthly col­umn dis­cussing dif­fer­ent aspects of extra vir­gin olive oil and fin­ish­ing off with a food and wine pair­ing sug­ges­tion for a spe­cific Chilean brand.
See Also: Award-Winning Olive Oils from Chile

Each of her columns is posted on her blog at Olivalovers and she also uses social media plat­forms, such as Instagram (@olivalovers), to reach out to the pub­lic as well. 

“[This effort is] much more to cre­ate new tasters because you have to have this very spe­cific objec­tive to train how to taste,” she said. To make them under­stand what is extra vir­gin and how to rec­og­nize a good oil in the supermarkets.”

No offi­cial sta­tis­tics about olive oil fraud are kept in Chile, but Dümmer Medina believes it is quite preva­lent, espe­cially with imported oils.

We have a lot of fraud here actu­ally,” she said. If we don’t edu­cate the con­sumers, these busi­ness prac­tices will con­tinue developing.”

One of the prob­lems we have is that nobody checks if the oils from the super­mar­ket are really what they are labeled as,” she added. In some cases, it’s just a mis­take made by pro­duc­ers who don’t under­stand that one defect made those oils vir­gin instead of extra vir­gin. In other cases, espe­cially with imported oils, it’s because we get all those ter­ri­ble lam­pante oils labeled as extra vir­gin from indus­trial companies.”

However, Dümmer Medina believes that efforts to edu­cate con­sumers and retail­ers is already begin­ning to have some suc­cess and that her edu­ca­tion ini­tia­tive will con­tinue to help in the future.

Ten to 15 years ago most olive oil in super­mar­kets was from Spain and Italy,” she said. After all of the work that the Chilean indus­try has been doing these past years, this has started to change. Now what is mostly sold in super­mar­kets is Chilean olive oil.”

The goal is to get [con­sumers and retail­ers] to go to a pro­ducer to buy the real extra vir­gin olive oil,” she added.

Her opti­mism for the future is mir­rored by pro­duc­ers and offi­cials from ChileOliva as well.

The high qual­ity of Chilean olive oil is already rec­og­nized in Chile and in the world,” Moglia, the gen­eral man­ager of ChileOliva, said. This allows us to think of an aus­pi­cious future and con­tinue grow­ing the sector.”

Lovazzano, from the olive oil pro­duc­tion and export­ing com­pany, shares this opti­mism and sees the future in grow­ing demand in Brazil and Asia for health­ier food products.

We are very opti­mistic, due to the grow­ing con­sump­tion of olive oil in the world, the open­ing of new mar­kets and, in gen­eral, con­sumer demand for healthy foods,” he said.

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