Olive oil supplier bets big on Chinese demand

By Lan Lan (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-10-02 08:26
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Olive oil supplier bets big on Chinese demand
Olive oil on display at an international oil expo in Shanghai. [Photo/CFP] 

BEIJING - Kondor SA Beijing, the Chinese branch of Kondor SA, one of Greece's biggest food and beverages distributors, is betting big on the domestic market to spur demand for Greek olive oil, a top company official has told China Daily.

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The company has sold about 80 tons of olive oil in Beijing since 2009, Aris Argiriou, Kondor SA Beijing's managing director said.

"Beijing has around 20 million people, almost double the total population of Greece, so it's a good place to start my business," he said, adding that the company's long-term plan was to expand its sales network to other big cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen.

China is a huge consumer of vegetable oils. The country is likely to consume about 24.8 million tons of edible oil in 2010, mainly soybean oil, rapeseed oil, peanut oil and palm oil, according to a forecast by the National Grain & Oil Information Center last month.

China imported 8,017 tons of olive oil in 2007, up from 393 tons in 2001, according to the General Administration of Customs. Analysts expect imports to soon touch 10,000 tons a year.

Expatriates in China and the nation's burgeoning middle class form Kondor's target customers, said Argiriou.

Kondor, which set up its Beijing office 16 months ago, will introduce into the capital's supermarkets two more olive oil brands, Istion and Extrolio, later this month, he said.

Kondor is already the exclusive distributor of Spitiko olive oil, which can now be seen on the shelves of at least 50 supermarkets in Beijing, including Jenny Lou's supermarkets and Beijing Parkson Department Store, Argiriou said.

Dai Ping, a regular customer at Beijing Parkson, said she usually bought olive oil for gifting or for use on salads.

"I think it's a waste to cook with olive oil, given its relatively high price," she said.

While a 2,500-milliliter bottle of peanut oil cost about 60 yuan, the imported 250-milliliter Greek olive oil cost about 40 yuan at Beijing Parkson, she said.

Vegetable oils are widely used in Chinese recipes, but olive oil has caught on only over the past few years.

Most Chinese consumers lack the requisite experience when it comes to differentiating between types of olive oils.

Still, Argiriou said, China was a "promising" market as its huge middle class was very conscious about food quality and health issues.

"China imports from Greece mainly virgin olive oil, of around 350 tons a year, and it is showing a steady increase annually," Areti Skafidaki, an official at the economic section in the Greek embassy told China Daily.

Currently, around 50 companies export Greek olive oil to China, he said. Famous extra virgin olive brands include Spitiko, Sitia, Ionia, Liostama and Cretaland.

Since China's geography is unsuitable for the mass production of olives, almost all of the olive oil sold in the nation is imported. Apart from Greece, its major importers include Spain, Italy and Turkey.