13 Jun

Olives, emus and snails power Chile’s move into health markets

By Paul Harris,

Olivier Leleux shades his eyes from the intense Chilean sun while riding horseback through olive groves on a mountain near Catemu in Chile’s Aconcagua Valley, an hour north of Santiago.

This is perfect olive country, he says: it has no olive fly (which harms fruit) and the extreme day-night temperature difference is good for the fruit.

The secret of producing organic products lies in working with insects. “You need positive insects and the right variety of olive trees and flowers to make them happy,” he says.

Mr Leleux, a Belgian, settled in Catemu in 1997 after retiring from the premium rate telephone chat-line business he founded in London, and recently launched what is being acclaimed as one of the world’s finest olive oils. He is one of a new wave of entrepreneurs in the country who are working to bring high-quality, healthy products to the world’s consumers.

His company, Greenfields, produces a 0.02-0.04 per cent acidity non-washed oil (low acidity is a measure of quality), which means water is not used in the oil extraction process.

“Water removes the fibres, aromas and antioxidants that give oil flavour.” Greenfield’s extra virgin olive oil is so full of flavour, Mr Leleux says, that one three-star Michelin chef, Geert Van Hecke at De Karmeliet in Bruges, Belgium, says it is the best he has ever tasted.

Chile has seen its olive oil exports jump from $4,000 (€3,150, £2,170) in 2001 to a forecast $3m this year on the back of its reputation for quality, according to the Chile Oliva association.

The international market embraces differentiated products such as Karadamili’s gourmet Frantoio and Arbequina varietal oils. Karadamili process its olives within 30 minutes of harvest to get the “full maturity and flavour”, says Augusto Reyes, the company’s general manager.

Other Chilean companies are also targeting the top end of their markets. Organic herbal tea producer Hermanos Cambiaso is finding success in the $230bn US health and sustainability lifestyle market with its Garden of the Andes herbal teas.

Medicinal herbs from the company’s Fundo el Pequen farm near Santiago are cultivated, harvested, processed and packed on site, producing tea with an intense aroma.

Chile’s health product business is also becoming known for its innovative natural cosmetics. Cosmeticas Elicina produces cream from snail slime that contains collagen, elastin and glycolic acid that help generate new skin cells.

Fernando Bascunan started breeding garden snails for the European food market but prices did not meet his expectations and he was left with 8,000 snails on his hands. However, his wife noticed that the cuts on his hands he sustained handling snails in their cages never got infected, healed without scarring and left the skin soft.

Now Mr Bascunan has patented a process to extract snail slime to produce 35,000 40-gram units a month. “That is about eight snails a jar,” he says. Does it work? Production and design engineer Olaf Hupperich says the cream is helping heal the scarring he sustained from surgery following an industrial accident. “The skin is softer and it is looking better. You have to trust the cream,” he says.

Other innovative skin care products are produced by Emu Line from the oil obtained from its flock of 6,000 emus. “Emu oil is an excellent tissue regenerator, scar and stretch-mark remover as it is practically identical to human oil. It contains large amounts of essential fatty acids and oleic acid that helps fast penetration to take its goodness into the skin,” says general manager Juan Pablo Concha.

With facial creams featuring a blend of emu oil and Chilean coca palm oil, the company is tapping into the increasing global demand for natural health and beauty products promoted by internet and word of mouth.

“Consumers use our products because they are effective, he says.

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