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ORGANIC PRODUCTION AND QUALITY STATUS MAKE ITALIAN OLIVE OIL THE WORLD’S FAVOURITE
There are three countries in the world with a reputation for producing the best olive oil, and they are all to be found in Europe. However, it is not just a matter of quality, but also of a capacity to innovate, promote the product, and communicate the message. Italy is adept at using these stratagems, especially when it comes to agro-food products. Indeed, the country comes top of the league, followed by Spain and Greece, dominating the world market in terms of olive oil production.
The recent drive towards industrialization in the agro-food industry may have led to the mechanization of many traditional processes, but it has also lent added value to the organic production methods employed by Italians since the age of the ox-driven oil-mill. In economies such as the USA, where the prevailing policy has long tended towards industrial standardization, high quality products such as PDO olive oil have finally succeeded in making a commercial impact. Indeed, it is no accident that the USA, Canada, and East Asia remain the main export markets for the sector: a fact confirmed by the Italian olive oil producers consortium, Unaprol.
The very positive growth rates confirm the industry’s dominant presence in foreign markets. In fact, the Italian producers increased their export quota by 16.7% in 2010 compared to the preceding year. The President of Unaprol, Massimo Gargano, explained further: “It goes without saying that the pursuit of quality rewards those who aim for excellence. According to the latest data from Istat, during the last quarter of 2010 the agricultural sector proved to be the most robust in the Italian economy, showing an increase of 1.5% over the previous three months.”
So quality definitely pays off, and has finally helped to establish new patterns of consumption. From the USA, the popularity of Italian PDO products and extra-virgin olive oil has spread to Australia and Russia. Despite the recession, the demand for Italian oil continued to grow in these countries, with a 2% rise in exports last year. There has also been an increase in sales to Japan and Canada, where more than 74% of the oil consumed is Italian in origin. Olive oil production contributes more to the nation’s agricultural economy than any other agronomic element, accounting for 5% of sales over the entire sector. The growth in demand for PDO and PGI products – with exports up 66% since 2004 – illustrates the degree to which Italian production is appreciated throughout the world. The Italian olive oil industry, with almost 5,000 operators, produces a total annual turnover of 3.2 million Euros. This volume of sales, produced by a combination of quality and innovation, has already determined the new strategy for growth.
The more than 800,000 small and medium-sized businesses in the sector are constantly researching methods for maintaining the high quality of their production while investing in a general renovation of their infrastructure. This trend towards innovation includes an improvement in technical support, an increased tendency for producers to form networks and the choice of appropriate strategies for managing the transformation process. The future priorities identified by members of Unaprol are centred on attaining these particular objectives.
President Gargano explained the situation: “The consortium of olive oil producers has signed an operational agreement with the Italian Trade Commission. This aims to use the services of commercial operators and journalists to promote exports of our quality product, and to increase consumer awareness of extra-virgin olive oil and of designated origin production within the new markets.” Every impetus towards growth is therefore directed towards international recognition. This is because the best quality oil is still strictly Italian, but success today depends more than ever on exploitation of foreign markets.