Monday, March 22, 2010

Tunisian Olive Oil: Change is Inevitable Except from a Vending Machine

As I depart Tunisia, today, and reflect back over the past week, I'm amazed by the enormous size and importance of the Tunisian olive oil industry. Yet, outside of Tunisian and some bottlers in Italy, Tunisian olive oil is unknown. Tunisian has 1,600,000 hectares (2.47 acres per hectare) of olive trees, 56 million trees and produces an average of 200,000 tons of olive oil per year (66% is exported). Tunisia is the fourth largest producer of olive oil with Spain, Italy and Greece. Folks, that's a sea of olive oil.

I’m sure you're asking, if they produce so much olive oil, then why haven't I tasted Tunisian olive oil or seen it on the shelves in the U.S? You have, but didn't know it. It's disguised. If you've purchased a bottle labeled, "Packed in," "Imported from," or "Product of Italy," you’ve had Tunisian olive oil. Historically, Tunisia has been a major supplier of the bulk bottlers from Italy. These bottlers or bulk producers buy product from countries in the Mediterranean and blend with Italian olive oil and ship to the U.S. and other countries.

Now, change is coming. And to quote an anonymous source, "Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine." The growers of Tunisian are beginning to bottle and label their own Extra Virgin olive oil (including organic) and seeking global importers and distributors from the U.S to Japan.

In recent years other new world countries including the U.S, Australia, Argentina, and Chile have stormed on to the world olive oil stage by planting an astounding amount of olive trees. These are young trees. To its advantage, Tunisia has mature trees and a whole bunch of them. Their challenge is changing the mindset of a bulk supplier for other countries where yield (quantity) is the most important factor to a quality-focused production process. This transformation is occurring rapidly and will be driven more and more by consumers as awareness increases about high quality Extra Virgin olive oil. Hey, world! Here comes 100% Tunisian olive oil.

My next stop—Sicily!

1 comment:

Richard G. said...

Great to see the Tunisians making a real effort to market their own oils. The fact that for decades, millions of litres/gallons of Tunisian olive oil has ended up in our supermarkets as "Product of Italy" is disgraceful and needs to be exposed further. Who allowed it to happen?