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Pitching Olive Oil Deep in Butter Country

Jul. 15, 2011
Lucy Vivante

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Olive oil pro­mo­tional cam­paigns are every­where. Last week Saverio Romano, the Italian Minister of Agriculture, announced a three-year, €5 mil­lion cam­paign tar­get­ing the but­ter-rich coun­tries of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark. Some money will also be ear­marked for edu­cat­ing Italian con­sumers. The cam­paign is being directed by UNAPROL, the con­sor­tium of 550,000 olive grow­ers and 71 regional offices through­out Italy.

Funding the €5,188,922 cam­paign are the European Union (50 per­cent), UNAPROL (30 per­cent), and the Italian gov­ern­ment (20 per­cent). Mr. Romano at the July 6 launch of the cam­paign said, We have to improve our com­mu­ni­ca­tions regard­ing olive oil by explain­ing that the Italian qual­ity assur­ance sys­tem, cer­ti­fi­ca­tions, and inspec­tions are cut­ting edge. By means of projects such as this we must strengthen inter­na­tional con­sump­tion by encour­ag­ing the intro­duc­tion of oil into the diets of other coun­tries, and then com­mu­ni­cate the great value added by Made in Italy.”

Per capita con­sump­tion of olive oil in Belgium and the Netherlands hov­ers at about 1 kilo per year, and in Denmark it’s about two-thirds of a kilo. This graph shows the dra­matic chasm between con­sump­tion in Italy and the new con­sumer coun­tries tar­geted by the campaign.

To increase con­sump­tion in the focus coun­tries, the cam­paign will make use of print, in-store pro­mo­tions, cook­ing classes, and guided vis­its for com­mer­cial olive oil buy­ers. The pro­gram will be directed at peo­ple younger than 50 years old because they are seen as hav­ing more dis­pos­able income. The pro­mo­tion focuses on sup­port­ing smaller pro­duc­ers, not mass-mar­ket brands.

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In 2009 Spain also inau­gu­rated its own three-year pro­mo­tional cam­paign with Belgium and the Netherlands among the tar­get coun­tries. Their cam­paign bud­get is €16.5 mil­lion and also focuses on the UK, France, and inter­nal Spanish con­sumers. Readers of Olive Oil Times will be famil­iar with the International Olive Council’s recently inau­gu­rated cam­paign focus­ing on the United States.

Gargano in a press release said, Italy is a healthy influ­ence on Europe because it improves the diet of con­sumers and it helps them make edu­cated choices in their acqui­si­tion of extra vir­gin olive oils.”

It seems that peo­ple from the Mediterranean olive pro­duc­ing coun­tries have always been sur­prised by the diet in transalpine coun­tries. Fernand Braudel in his book on the Mediterranean in the 16th cen­tury, intro­duced two enter­tain­ing quotes about the north­ern diet from the point of view of Antonio Vázquez, a Spanish sol­dier who chron­i­cled his long stay in Flanders, and by the Bishop of Aragon who went to live in the Netherlands. The fol­low­ing is from Braudel’s book:

For Alonso Vázquez and the Spaniards of his time (and prob­a­bly of all time) Flanders was the land where there grows nei­ther thyme, nor laven­der, figs, olives, mel­ons, or almonds; where pars­ley, onions, and let­tuces have nei­ther juice nor taste; where dishes are pre­pared, strange to relate, with but­ter from cows instead of oil.…

The Cardinal of Aragon, who reached the Netherlands in 1517 with his own cook and his own sup­plies, shared this opin­ion. Because of the but­ter and dairy pro­duce which is so widely used in Flanders and Germany’, he con­cluded, these coun­tries are over­run with lepers.”

The cler­gy­man was of course very wrong (lep­rosy, now known as Hansen’s Disease, is caused by bac­te­ria). Nonetheless, the health ben­e­fits of olive oil are a large dri­ver in boost­ing con­sump­tion and will surely be used in the var­i­ous campaigns.

Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and The Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, trans. from the French by Siân Reynolds, vol. I, p. 237, New York: Harper & Row, 1972, vol. I, p. 237.

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