Greece fails to harvest its olive oil wealth

by on 19 October 2019

The world’s third biggest producer is not generating the export earnings that it should.

In the depths of the eurozone crisis, many Greeks cited a mantra from the poet Odysseas Elytis that their repeatedly shattered nation would always be able to rebuild itself while it had three things: an olive, a vine and a boat.

Of that trio, the olive isn’t pulling its weight as an engine of national revival.

In theory, Greece should be an olive oil superpower. It is not only the world’s third biggest producer, but an unusually high percentage of its oil is of the highest grade: extra virgin.

Greece is struggling to turn these assets into export gold, however. Even though this month’s olive harvest is expected to be good (after a dire, fly-blighted 2018), the eternal problem is that Greece will not reap the full rewards itself. The vast majority of its oil is sold in bulk to Italy at bargain-basement prices, where it is bottled and sold at a high mark-up in supermarkets across Europe with premium Italian labels. Just 27 percent of Greek output is labeled and branded in Greece, according to the National Bank of Greece.

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