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GreekReporter.comLifeFoodHow Greek Olive Oil Becomes 'Italian'

How Greek Olive Oil Becomes ‘Italian’

Olive Oil
Olive oil. Credit: Tabibak / CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Greece is the second-largest supplier of the Italian olive oil industry, based on an analysis of the Italian olive oil sector by the Greek Embassy’s Office of Economic and Commercial Affairs in Milan.

In 2021, more than seventy-five percent of Greek olive oil exports went to Italy in bulk, the analysis found. This means that Greece supplied more than 111,000 tons of the 500,000 tons of olive oil Italy imported, representing nearly twenty-two percent of all of Italy’s olive oil imports last year.

Italy’s largest supplier is Spain, with a share reaching 61.53 percent.

The majority of olive oil producers in Greece choose to export their product in bulk to Italy at quite low rates at even lower prices than they export it to other countries.

Italian companies standardize it and sell it at more than double the price. At the same time, there is no Greek branded olive oil product at Italian supermarkets.

The value of olive oil exports from Greece to Italy amounted in 2021 to 345.5 million euros, up by 16.33 percent compared to 2020.

Greek olive oil flows to Italy in bulk

One of the main reasons producers choose bulk sales to Italy is that many Greeks produce olive oil themselves or have relatives producing it and providing the oil in bulk.

Furthermore, most cooperatives have as their central objective the sale of bulk olive oil in Italy, according to market analysts.

However, Greek producers and exporters fail to gain the added value of branded olive oil.

According to the report, Italian importers usually pay less for Greek olive oil than oil produced in Italy. Based on historical data, up until 2020, a kilogram of imported Greek extra virgin olive oil cost Italian traders less than three euros compared to the price of Italian oil, which was around €3.70.

Italians make blends

Medit Hellas, a company based in Patras, Greece, which exports unpackaged olive oil to Italy, states that Greek producers are dependent on Italian traders.

“The large producing and bottling companies of Italy call the shots in the Greek olive oil sector to a great extent,” the company’s owners said. “They come each year and buy large amounts of Greek olive oil.”

“Italy bottles 800,000 to 900,000 tons of olive oil each season,” they added. “With the country’s production ranging between 250,000 and 300,000 tons, they need a lot more olive oil, which they buy from other producing countries, including Greece and Spain.”

“Greek olive oil is generally pricier than oils of other countries, but Italians buy it in large quantities and always in bulk to make blends,” Medit Hella further reported.

“The Italian market for olive oil is dominated by domestic brands,” it was said. “We are unaware of a single Greek producer exporting branded olive oil to Italy.”

Only 30 percent of olive oil bottled in Italy exclusively of Italian origin

The report further confirms that only thirty percent of the olive oil bottled in Italy is actually Italian. This is because the widely accepted high-quality of Italian olive oil is critical to its success in global markets.

Olive oil
Cloudy olive oil just after the decanting step and prior to storing. Credit: TassosSKG / CC-BY-SA-3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

In addition, the long-standing practice of Italian bottlers acquiring Greek olive oil and blending it has resulted in a form of blended olive oil. This blend is registered in consumers’ consciousness globally as a “Made in Italy” product.

This gives the false perception to the world that Italian olive oil is of superior quality compared to neighboring Mediterranean countries.

Branded Greek olive oil is absent from Italy’s market

Moreover, branded Greek olive oil remains absent from Italy’s domestic market. There, blended olive oils of Italian production seem to dominate.

Sofia Zervaki, a Greek who has been living and working in Rome for the last twenty  years, said in an interview that the supermarket shelves in the capital are packed with “Made in Italy” olive oil and blends of olive oil of Greek and Spanish origin.

“During the lockdowns, I had to buy olive oil from the supermarket, and I could only find Italian oil or blends produced by Italian companies,” said Zervaki. “There is no bottled olive oil from Spain or Greece.”

“What is more, the labels on the bottles are not as informative and comprehensive as on other food products, yogurt and feta cheese, for example,” she added. “One cannot know the exact country of production of the olive oil used in Italian blends.”

Measures for Greek exporters

The analysis proposed a set of measures for Greek producers and exporters to take to penetrate the Italian market with branded olive oils. These include consistently participating in food fairs and olive oil competitions held in Italy and organizing familiarization tours for Italian journalists and traders. In addition, there are trips to mills and bottling facilities in Greece, and food bloggers and influencers from Italy are invited to tasting events.

However, considering the fact that Italy has created an image of itself as the number one world exporter of high-quality olive oil, this would be of great risk to them. It could jeopardize Italy’s image as an exporter of high-quality olive oil. This could result in a decline in exports.

Greek olive oil, the “liquid gold” of Greece

Greek olive oil is synonymous with Greek tradition as well as its healthy diet and rich history. The “liquid gold” of the country, as Homer called it, is an irreplaceable nutritional component for every Greek.

Ancient Greeks consumed olive oil for a healthy, long life—both as food and as an essential treatment for skin and hair.

Bottles of Greek Olive Oil in a Field of Wild Daisies
Bottles of Greek olive oil in a field of wild daisies. Credit: Lisa Radinovsky

Today, olives and olive oil are staples in a Greek home, where they are used in salads or as essential ingredients in much of Greek cuisine. Olive oil is an integral part of almost all popular Greek dishes from Greek salad to moussaka and tzatziki to spanakopita.

Through the ages, it has become synonymous with Greece. The image of an olive tree or olive grove signifies Greece as much as does the Aegean sunset.

Today, many regard Greek olive oil as the best in the world. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) comprises at least eighty percent of olive oil production in Greece. In Crete, it accounts for close to ninety percent.

Rich and aromatic, Greek olive oil is produced only from green olives. Its color, aroma, and flavor depend on the olive variety, location, and type of soil where it is cultivated.  The environmental and climatic conditions in which the olive tree is cultivated and grown are important as well.

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