Greece is the third-largest producer of olive oil, after Spain and Italy. The liquid, long a pillar of Mediterranean cooking, is also a mainstay of the Greek economy. In 2013, Greece exported some $602 million worth of olive oil, its third most valuable export after petroleum products and medicine, according to data from the World Bank.
Yet the majority of its olive oil is shipped in bulk to Italy. A 2012 report by global consultancy McKinsey says that allows Italian companies to capture an extra 50 percent premium on the value of the final product.
Packaging and branding its olive oil would greatly boost profits and help the Greece brand, McKinsey concluded.
Currently, only about 4 percent of Greek olive oil ends up in the U.S., the second-largest importer of olive oil in the world. Here its virtues are unsung, says David Neuman, CEO of the U.S. unit of Greek olive-oil company Gaea.
Americans “know about Greek yogurt, we know about good feta cheese, we don’t know much about good Greek olive oil,” Neuman says.
But that may change with the Costco deal; on the warehouse club’s cornucopian shelves, the formerly green label and cap of the 2-liter extra-virgin oil bottles are now blue and proudly display the oil’s Hellenic origin.
“Certainly it’s going to put Greece on the map, because people watch what Costco does,” Neuman says.
On the future picture: Italian oil producer Augusto Spagnoli picks an olive last year. Italy’s 2014 olive harvest was declared the worst in its history, due to conditions that helped the olive fly do damage.
Nancy Harmon Jenkins, author of “Virgin Territory,” will appear at a book signing at Fiore