New Delhi, India

Rajneesh Bhasin, the pres­i­dent of the Indian Olive Association and man­ag­ing direc­tor of Borges India, said there is a grow­ing inter­est among his coun­try’s 1.25 bil­lion peo­ple in the health ben­e­fits of olive oil and a trend away from the high-heat tech­niques that char­ac­ter­ize tra­di­tional Indian cook­ing.

As young pro­fes­sion­als travel abroad and return as “agents for change” to a more Mediterranean cook­ing style, prod­ucts like Borges’ extra vir­gin and refined olive oils are find­ing their way into more Indian house­holds.

Indians, who lead the world in rates of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease and dia­betes, have every rea­son to con­sider bring­ing olive oil into their diets, yet per capita con­sump­tion stands at less than a tea­spoon per year.

The oppor­tu­nity has not escaped some of the largest food com­pa­nies. Cargill and Del Monte have joined Borges and oth­ers in what is seen as an early round in one of the world’s most promis­ing mar­kets for olive oil.

Bhasin spoke with Olive Oil Times pub­lisher Curtis Cord recently for a seg­ment of Cord’s On Olive Oil pod­cast.



On mod­ern Indian life and its impact on health

We start work early in the morn­ing at 7, 8, and by the time we get back home, it’s 7, 8 in the evening, so most of us live a fairly seden­tary lifestyle, spend­ing most of the days star­ing at a lap­top or at a com­puter, and there is very lit­tle time for phys­i­cal exer­cise. That’s where a lot of these health con­cerns are grow­ing, and they are com­ing in fairly young, so a lot of peo­ple in their early 30’s, late 30’s, early 40’s are begin­ning to get these prob­lems because of the lifestyle that we are liv­ing in.

On deter­min­ing the needs of the mar­ket and con­sumer edu­ca­tion

We under­stood what the need is, and based on the demand for olive oil for Indian cook­ing, we launched an extra-light olive oil which was pre­dom­i­nantly refined and a lit­tle bit of extra vir­gin in it. We started adver­tis­ing that prod­uct and telling con­sumers that, “Look, here’s the prod­uct, here’s an olive oil which is good for Indian cook­ing.” That’s where the cul­ture began catch­ing up really fast.

On the chang­ing cook­ing habits of Indian house­holds

People are begin­ning to cook dif­fer­ently. They have expe­ri­enced olive oil and prod­ucts like this because a lot of peo­ple today, because of the IT boom in India, a lot of peo­ple travel inter­na­tion­ally. They come back as change agents and hence the change in char­ac­ter that is begin­ning to hap­pen.

On the arrival of major play­ers in the Indian olive oil mar­ket

There are a lot of seri­ous play­ers that are there in the mar­ket now. There is Cargill which owns the Leonardo brand now; that’s one very seri­ous player in the mar­ket. Second is Del Monte, and yhere are quite a few oth­ers who are enter­ing and seem to be seri­ous about the mar­ket. think all these things are really good because once con­sumers expe­ri­ence the prod­uct, that’s when they will begin to get hooked onto the cat­e­gory, and that’s where there are huge oppor­tu­ni­ties for the cat­e­gory to grow in, mean­ing short-term and long.

Chandni Chowk street in New Delhi, India

On mar­ket­ing olive pomace oil to Indians

In Borges, it’s not part of our strat­egy. We are very clear that we don’t believe fun­da­men­tally that we want to give con­sumers an oppor­tu­nity to con­sume olive oil by get­ting them started with some­thing like pomace because it’s, as you said, it’s chem­i­cally extracted, and might not be the best expe­ri­ence from a con­sumer stand­point for him or her to come back to this oil. Hence our strat­egy hov­ers around refined and extra vir­gin, and that’s the cul­ture that we want to spread.

On the poten­tial for mar­ket growth

As we speak, the cat­e­gory is just 12,000 tons, and India con­sumes at least 15 to 18 mil­lion tons of edi­ble oil. There’s enough room to grow the cat­e­gory expo­nen­tially and I think if all of us start work­ing on build­ing the cat­e­gory, cre­at­ing con­sumer aware­ness around olive oil and the health ben­e­fits, the cat­e­gory will grow many-fold in years to come.

On stan­dards and enforce­ment

We are proud to say that, today the Indian stan­dard are exactly in line with Codex, so I don’t think there are many gaps there. Our reg­u­la­tions are pretty strong, though a lot of small-time importers com­plain, but I think it’s a strength. Every con­sign­ment of oil gets sam­pled and tested in all the 11 para­me­ters before the ship­ment gets cleared.

All those prod­ucts are fairly safe and pass the stan­dards as they enter the coun­try. There could be a ques­tion mark on some of the blends that are done in India, so I’m not com­ment­ing on that, but I think the entry gate has a strong check which ensures that sub­op­ti­mal or poor qual­ity prod­ucts don’t enter the coun­try.

On olive oil made in India

India, if in times to come, and I’m really hop­ing it hap­pens within the next decade or so, if we have more than 15, 20,000 hectares of land cul­ti­vated across var­i­ous states pro­duc­ing olive oil, I’m sure we’ll start pro­duc­ing, three, four, 5,000 tons of local olive oil which will help hedge the prices that we get in imports, and maybe will put some pres­sure on export­ing coun­tries to bring their prices down to be more com­pet­i­tive in the Indian mar­ket.

Listen to the com­plete inter­view on iTunes, Soundcloud or the On Olive Oil web­site.



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