Promoting olive oil in India

New Delhi, March 19 :

A Madrid-based inter-governmental organisation is to spend a million euros (Rs.58 million) in a three-year campaign to ramp up olive oil sales in India by pointing to its culinary and health benefits.

Of this, 500,000 euros will be spent between May and December on a series of events involving the media, the hospitality industry and schools, with the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) hoping to see sales rise by at least 60 per cent a year over the next few years from the current 200 tonnes.

“We want to show you that you can use olive oil with great success in Indian cuisines,” IOOC executive director Habib Essid told IANS during a visit here to inspect the arrangements for the promotion.

“Olive oil is a luxury product when you compare it to other edible oils. India has been chosen because with the rate of growth of the economy, there is an upper class and an upper middle class developing in this country,” pointed out Essid, who has served in a series of senior government positions in his native Tunisia.

“In India, people know about olive oil as a medicine and a cosmetic; so they know about the good aspects of olive oil. But they don’t know too much about using it as a food ingredient,” he added.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) established the IOOC in 1956 to govern the International Olive Oil Agreement that came into force the same year. The executive director of the 38-member council alternates between Europe and Tunisia, the second largest olive oil producer outside the continent.

“We have launched the initiative after a lot of ground work and a close study of the market. We foresee an increase in consumption of 60 per cent per year over the next few years.

“We need to push a little bit to sensitise (the) people (of India) about the benefits of olive oil. We are sure the impact will be tremendous.” The US is a pointer to just how successful such promotional campaigns, launched in 1970, can be.

“We began the campaign in the late 1980s and it produced very major results. When we started, the consumption of olive oil was about 20,000 tonnes, which was almost the US production,” Essid pointed out. “After the promotion, the US now consumes something like 150,000 tonnes a year.” The May-December India promotion will run in New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and two or three other major cities.

“We will hold one-day seminars with specialist food writers. There will be activities in schools. There will also be special workshops for culinary experts where we will invite chefs from different five-star hotels and some important restaurants,” Essid stated.

“Finally, we will organise an international conference in New Delhi where we will invite people from abroad and experts from the hospitality industry here end-November beginning-December,” he added.

All this will culminate in a book on using olive oil in Indian cuisine. The author hasn’t been chosen yet and advertisements will be issued later this month asking prospective writers to apply.