13 Mar

The International Olive Council focuses on India for imports

By Anoothi Vishal,

The International Olive Council focuses on India for imports – but also for olive plantations in Rajasthan.

After wine and cheese, it is olives now. If you have stopped exulting over the number of foreign companies trying to sell you the good life through your palate — thanks to a bustling market growing hugely each year despite prohibitive duties on processed food items — it is time you cheered some more.

The International Olive Council is all set to seriously woo Indian consumers, begining this year. India is its “focus” for the next three years and the organisation, an intergovernmental one set up by the UNDP in 1959, with 39 member countries, has dedicated a budget of ¤500,000 for generic promotions in all the major metros this year.

Habib Essid, executive director of the council, on an India recce — this is his second visit after a gap of 18 years — cannot recognise the country any more. But that’s good for the trade.

Apart from the country’s growing middle class, obviously a draw, and the estimated “10-15 million people in the upper class” that will be a target for such consumption, India is also a market ready for an olive explosion if you like, because “people are already aware of it as a cosmetic or medicine. Olive oil is good for the hair and the skin…”

It now needs to be sold as just as good for “frying” desi khana in. But apart from persuading opinion makers that food cooked in olive oil will taste just the same, if not better, the promotion will centre around the dissemination of the fact that the oil is good for health, says Essid.

High school quizzes and major health conferences where international researchers will be called upon to talk about health benefits, are promotional activities slated for later this year and a recipe book teaching you how to cook Indian food in olive oil is also on the anvil.

Apart from marketing the idea at the consumer end, the council will also be making representations to the government, not just on the high duties (50 per cent on processed oil; 80 per cent if imported in bulk), but also to the ministry of agriculture on the possibility of having olive plantations in, well, Rajasthan.

“The climate and soil in Rajasthan are similar to Israel’s, so the Israeli experience could be replicated here,” says Essid.

That’s later. For now, the big challenge in the Indian market — still minuscule in terms of import volumes that stand at about 2,000 tonnes annually but growing 50-60 per cent each year, according to the council — is the potential consumers’ sensitivity to price.

Seen more as a luxury than an everyday cooking medium, olive oil looks unlikely to replace your Dhara — or even Saffola. But then Essid gives the example of the US, one of the council’s focus country in the 1980s. “From a consumption of 25,000 tonnes in the 1980s, it went to 2,50,000,” Essid says. Will the Indian experiment see a repeat?

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