08 Mar

Australia: The good oil on our olive groves

By Paul Edwards,

AUSTRALIA’S fast-growing olive industry is coming to grips with the reality that it’s one thing to grow fruit but quite another to make money from it.

Competing for the consumer dollar against cheap European imports is tough – and together with buyer reluctance to buy more expensive brands, there is supermarket resistance to cluttering the shelf with unknown brands.

Lighthouse Extra Virgin Olive Oil, of Drysdale, on the Bellarine Peninsula, nominates its marketing challenges as inconsistent year-to-year production volumes, the need for a broad range of skills in a small staff, the expense of advertising and the need to try radical marketing methods – and learn from mistakes.

“Winning awards is a terrific leg-up for marketing,” says manager Dale Stelfox. “It has made it easier to sell our 2006 yellow label gold medal winner.

“We take part in events such as the Age Harvest Picnic, regional events and markets so we can get among the public and try to educate them about the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil.”

Lighthouse is one of many small to medium Victorian oil producers with about 11,000 trees. At the other end of the scale is the giant Boundary Bend, with interests on the Murray south of Robinvale and at Boort. Part of this enterprise is managed for Timbercorp, and with 2 million trees is one of the world’s great producers.

Boundary Bend markets in Australia and overseas, even following the coals-to-Newcastle route to the Mediterranean.

“Obviously they have marketing advantages that we can’t match,” says Lighthouse marketing manager Annemarie Platt.

“To help improve our bottom line we’re focusing on becoming an educator and tourism drawcard – we have a showroom and shop and we’re building a restaurant. We attract busloads of visitors, many of Mediterranean backgrounds, and we’re delighted to show people how it all works.

“We show visitors the groves and outline our growing systems, then show them the processing plant and explain how the oil is extracted from the fruit.

“We also invite educational bodies here – hospitality students, chefs, local schools, and environmental students – to give a full picture of a working olive grove.”

Lighthouse is a founding member of a new Bellarine tourism promotion, which also features golf, seafood, natural therapy, wine, food and accommodation.

To date the company has not featured on the Safeway/Coles shelf, but its products are available in a number of markets and specialty food stores – generally in Melbourne’s inner-eastern suburbs.

Producers recognise the domination of the Australian market – at present running at 90 per cent imports – is going to be a slow process.

But that’s the nature of the olive – it takes eight years from planting to full production.

After that, the tree might be good for 1000 years.

[Source] Click here

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