By Lisa Radinovsky
For much of the Greek olive oil sector in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic provoked the perseverance required to meet challenges and achieve success. With great dedication, many Greek olive oil producers turned a year of illness, lockdowns, and grief into a time for honoring olive oil’s health benefits and flavors and emphasizing its key role in a healthy diet.
The Greek Olive Oil Sector in the Time of COVID-19
In the strange spring of 2020, Greek Liquid Gold examined the effects of social distancing and closures on olive oil businesses in Greece during the coronavirus pandemic. Greece’s prompt, strict spring lockdown seemed to limit the spread of COVID-19, but it also presented great challenges for Greek businesses, employees, and residents.
Some Greek olive oil companies were able to close their facilities without laying off employees, partly due to government subsidies for salaries and partly by virtue of their own sacrifices, while others made arrangements for social distancing and extra cleaning to keep everyone as safe as possible at work. Many companies struggled with cancelled orders and exhibitions, as well as new customer concerns about packaging and hygiene, plus distribution and supply disruptions.
However, the news was not all bleak. As dining out was replaced by cooking and eating at home, and people thought more about how to stay well, many consumers recognized the importance of healthy foods such as extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). While restaurants’ demand plummeted, supermarket sales of EVOO increased, and online purchases skyrocketed. Some companies found it challenging to keep up with the increased demand.
In addition to doing their best to continue safely producing and distributing a magnificently healthy, flavorful product, a number of Greek olive oil companies found other ways to support the wellbeing of consumers and communities. The Pierrakos family’s Laconiko donated profits from online sales to closed brick-and-mortar businesses; others donated EVOO to needy families in their community or to scientists doing research on olive oil’s health benefits. For example, Yanni’s Olive Grove became the first olive oil company to support a clinical trial regarding the positive effects of EVOO on people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Olive Oil’s Health Benefits
In the middle of the year, Greek Liquid Gold explored the latest research on olive oil’s health benefits to find out if extra virgin olive oil can help us fight COVID-19. While there was no evidence that EVOO is a miracle preventive or cure, scientists have confirmed its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. So extra virgin olive oil is recommended as a key component of the Mediterranean diet, which can help prevent various diseases that increase the risk of serious cases of COVID, as well as helping to boost our immune system during the pandemic (and beyond).
Extra virgin olive oil’s health benefits have been so widely recognized that one Greek producer decided it was time to open new roads for EVOO. As a result, an early harvest high phenolic Greek extra virgin olive oil, Pamako monovarietal Tsounati, became the first olive oil to be officially approved as a food supplement. Sold in pharmacies under the name CardiOlea, this EVOO can now be prescribed in Belgium and Luxembourg as a hydroxytyrosol supplement rich in antioxidants.
In another development, to raise money for more clinical research on olive oil’s health benefits, the World Olive Center for Health in Athens and the UC Davis Olive Center in California are selling Eureka High Phenolic Extra Virgin Olive Oil disguised as a bar of gold.
As Greece brought the novel coronavirus under control and welcomed a modest number of tourists from various countries in the summer, Greek Liquid Gold explored some of the alternative activities they could enjoy with relative safety. These included agrotourism and culinary tourism adventures that introduce visitors to olive oil tasting and the Greek Mediterranean diet. With conscientious hosts and many rural and outdoor activities, this type of tourism offered a calm, peaceful option to many visitors to Greece who were seeking a safe escape.
Of course, safe escapes and connections have often taken place online this year. An international network for women who work with olive oil, Women in Olive Oil, is a new initiative that started on Facebook. Soon after an American established this online global community, numerous Greek women joined the group.
Awards for Flavor and Health Benefits
As consumers around the world enjoyed the tasty, healthy products that originate in Greek olive groves, olive oil tasting judges took note of their high quality. In dozens of international competitions, Greek extra virgin olive oils earned prestigious awards for their excellent flavors and aromas (organoleptics). At the end of the year, Terra Creta’s Koroneiki Grand Cru EVOO was ranked among the top ten extra virgin olive oils in the world by the EVOO World Ranking (WR), which considers awards from 28 major international olive oil competitions. This was the first time EVOO WR had ever ranked a Greek EVOO among the world’s top ten. In addition, three Greek olive oil companies were ranked among the top ten in the world by EVOO WR, with Laconiko capturing second place, Sakellaropoulos Organic Farms fifth, and Hellenic Agricultural Enterprises eighth in the world.
While consumers have become more aware that all extra virgin olive oils are good for us, a number of Greek EVOOs won prizes for extraordinary healthiness in the health benefits competitions that have become somewhat more common in recent years. And in a third competition category that highlights an increasingly popular type of food, a wide variety of Greek flavored olive oil condiments were lauded for their striking aromas and tastes. According to EVOO WR, Greek companies dominated this category, occupying all but two of the top 28 spots (led by Laconiko in the first seven).
The Olive Harvest, and Looking Ahead
The 2020-21 crop year began with the collection of unripe olives in September and October’s early harvest, then continued with the gathering of ripe olives into the winter. Greek producers reported that they did not expect an especially large quantity of olive oil, but they did anticipate very good quality.
Starting November 7 and continuing into January, the country’s second pandemic lockdown introduced the requirements of new paperwork or SMS messaging and restricted movement. This was problematic for some producers who had trouble finding enough laborers to harvest their olives. However, a number of exporters of bottled EVOO told Greek Liquid Gold that they found a way to complete their harvest successfully.
With early harvests concluded and regular harvests well underway, Greek olive oil producers are looking ahead to 2021. In Chalkidiki, northern Greece, Evi Psounou Prodromou of Yanni’s Olive Grove looks forward to becoming the first Greek olive oil producer to establish a company branch licensed in Greece for the production and packaging of food supplements based on early harvest EVOO. In Crete, southern Greece, Emmanouil Karpadakis reports that Terra Creta will “continue to work closely with our agronomists and the farmers as part of our core strategy, aiming for top quality and more sustainable practices at all levels.”
Karpadakis expects 2021 to be “a challenging year” in terms of meeting consumers’ needs, since he anticipates the widespread interest in a natural, healthy diet to mean a continuation of high demand for healthy EVOO. With Greek extra virgin olive oils repeatedly honored for their quality, flavor, and health benefits, Greece is an excellent source of this valuable liquid gold.
Originally published on Greek Liquid Gold: Authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil (greekliquidgold.com). See that site for recipes with olive oil, photos from Greece, and olive oil news and information.