Five Greek olive oil experts discuss their expectations for the future of Greek olive oil. They express concern about substantial challenges that the sector must confront. Yet they also offer hope that by focusing on producing high quality olive oil, Greek producers will be able to impress more consumers around the world with distinctive Greek flavors.
Emmanouil Karpadakis, olive oil specialist and vice president of the Exporters’ Association of Crete, points out that in the Greek olive oil world “there are challenges to deal with, like climate change, olive tree cultivation, production and consumption at the international level, and changes in consumer preferences and diet models.” Dr. Kiki Zinoviadou of Perrotis College at the American Farm School in Thessaloniki agrees that the Greek olive oil sector must overcome “a lot of obstacles,” including the increasingly apparent effects of climate change, which lead to “greater needs for irrigation due to the long dry periods that a lot of areas face.”
Zinoviadou also mentions growing competition in the olive oil sector worldwide, for example from Southern Hemisphere countries. Olive oil consultant and food policy professional Vasilios Frantzolas has a similar concern, fearing “the future of Greek olive oil will not be bright in the years to come because of the increasing competition from our neighbors in the Mediterranean,” such as Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt, given their major investments in the olive oil sector, as well as a need for better education and more bank financing in the Greek olive oil sector.
In addition, olive oil taster and consultant Odysseas Vlachavas believes “the demands of market development and the harsh conditions of competition in recent decades have distracted olive oil producers from the strong advantage of high quality.” Most Greek olive oil experts share a concern with quality. For example, Zinoviadou argues, “Greek producers should become more extroverted and enhance the export of bottled olive oil, focusing on high quality and the unique sensorial characteristics that oils from Greek varieties have.”
Looking on the bright side, Karpadakis believes “Greek branded extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) has a lot of potential to increase its presence in the international market, especially in the ‘mature markets,’ due to its authentic quality and the stability of its organoleptic profile” (its lasting aroma and flavor). Frantzolas emphasizes the importance of producing fruity extra virgin olive oils for the export market, since he believes the vast majority of demand worldwide is for aromatic, well balanced, or very fruity oils for regular enjoyment in and with meals. He is pleased by the achievements of several new and established Greek brands along these lines.
In addition to the accomplishments of conscientious Greek producers who strive for excellence, an international trend offers reason for optimism. As “the Mediterranean diet is becoming highly acknowledged worldwide,” Zinoviadou suggests, “this will potentially lead to a large increase in olive oil consumption.” Like the extra virgin olive oil that is one of its central components, the Mediterranean diet is widely lauded for both its flavors and its health benefits.
Dr. Eleni Melliou, the president of the World Olive Center for Health and a pharmacognosy researcher at the University of Athens, recommends a different approach to Greek olive oil that focuses on those health benefits. “In my opinion, the future [of Greek olive oil] is definitely related to the European Union health claim for olive oil.” A small but expanding number of Greek producers has been focusing on selling high-phenolic extra virgin olive oils that are eligible for that health claim. These are EVOOs rich in polyphenols, natural compounds (such as oleocanthal) that have significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and they have brought a number of producers higher prices.
While some encourage exploration of olive oil’s potential as an ultra-healthy superfood, there are also Greek commentators who caution against an early harvest that yields very little oil and more pungency than fruitiness. Some Greek olive oil producers aim for the best possible flavor. Others strive for the most health benefits they can achieve (usually by aiming for very high phenolic EVOOs). Another group aims for an ideal balance of flavorful extra virgin olive oil with impressive health benefits. An additional noteworthy trend is the production of a wide variety of popular, acclaimed Greek infused olive oils.
In Greece, all of these types of olive oil show promise. Impressively fruity, flavorful extra virgin olive oils, exceptionally healthy EVOOs, and flavored olive oils have been winning awards by the hundred, attracting the interest of consumers across the globe who are willing to pay well for high quality products. When Greek producers pay attention to detail, strive for excellence, and bottle their olive oil under a Greek brand name—whichever trend they aim to follow–many manage to overcome the multi-faceted challenges their sector faces. As Vlachavas points out, “high quality is the future of Greek olive oil, the means of highlighting the cultivation practices, the different microclimates, and the peculiarities that each variety hides, so that Greek olive oil will achieve recognition.”
All businesses, organizations, and competitions involved with Greek olive oil, the Mediterranean diet, and/or agrotourism or food tourism in Greece, as well as others interested in supporting Greeks working in these sectors, are invited to consider the advertising and sponsorship opportunities on the Greek Liquid Gold: Authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil website. The only wide-ranging English-language site focused on news and information from the Greek olive oil world, it has helped companies reach consumers in more than 215 countries around the globe.
Lisa Radinovsky is the founder and author of www.greekliquidgold.com