Greek olive oil is among the finest in the world and a must on any Greek shoppers’ list, but few probably know that what they’re buying may be made in Greece, but is a product controlled by foreign companies as the domestic industry has failed to market itself although it is the third-largest producer of the prized commodity.
With Greece in the fifth year of a crushing economic crisis, exports of Greek products stand out as a success story as customers around the world gobble up everything made in Greece from honey to saffron to yogurt – but Greek olive oil producers, mostly small, family-run businesses, prefer to sell to bigger foreign companies which market it under other names. Foreign customers believe they are buying Italian olive oil, for example, without knowing it comes from Greece.
Altis and Minerva, two of the most popular brands in Greece – both bearing alluring Greek-backgrounds on their labels – are made from Greek olives but Altis is owned by the British-Dutch conglomerate Unilever while Minerva is owned by a British multi-national. Lambda, a Cretan olive oil, is the world’s most expensive at $50-$200 depending on the size, and Greek-controlled, but so pricey it can’t get market share against the mass market of big foreign companies.
While Greek farmers grow a lot of olives, about 60 percent gets sold in bulk to Italian business giants because it’s more profitable for the farmers, although what customers around the world don’t know they’re getting a Greek product. Olive oil represents a huge opportunity for the country, but for that to materialize, Greek companies will have to make some big changes in the way they operate.