International olive oil producers are looking at China to increase their turnover, because the nation appears to have developed a taste for the healthy oil.
An telling story from the media is that of Cui Ronghua, a peanut exporter from the eastern port of Qingdao. His children were already drinking imported baby formula, so he decided that the family started cooking with imported olive oil as well.
Relying on imports
Because China’s climate is not suitable for mass olive production and more Chinese are realizing olive oil is generally healthier than most cooking oils, imports have surged in recent years, especially in top-tier cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen, where 80% of olive oil shipped from Spain, Italy, Australia and Turkey is consumed.
Spain is the leading exporter to China. 10,141 mt of Spanish olive oil was imported by China during the first quarter of 2019, 88.4% of the total imports of that period.
Jean-Louis Barjol, executive director of the Madrid-based International Olive Council, the world’s only international intergovernmental organization in the field of olive oil and table olives, said because China’s huge middle class is very conscious about food quality and health issues, the Mediterranean diet, which uses plenty of olive oil, is a practical way to maintain health.
“The numerous television advertisements released recently by Chinese olive oil importers and the campaigns led by export countries’ trade-promotion bodies to explain the uses of olive oil have resulted in a significant increase in sales, as well as the opening of hypermarkets in the nation’s main cities selling imported foods,” Barjol said.
“We found people in China are more inclined to buy extra-virgin olive oil, which does not require refining and is 20% more costly than refined olive oil,” said Amparo Chozaz, assistant managing director of the Spanish Olive Oil Exporters Association in Madrid.
Eager to gain more market share from their already established rivals from Italy and Greece in the China market, Spanish olive oil companies chose to join together in promoting their products under the name Spanish olive oil in the China market.
Chozaz said they spent 4.5 million euros ($6.19 million) on popular cooking programs featuring Spanish olive oil on Chinese TV stations, commercial websites and magazines. They also held national food events to boost their olive oil exports to China in 2013.
Despite the fact that olive oil accounts for only 1% of China’s total edible oil consumption, the country’s olive oil imports remained strong and hit 43,400 mt in 2013, an increase of 5.8% from the previous year.
China’s recent embrace of olive oil was a welcome change for Mediterranean nations, where olive oil prices plummeted in 2012 because of the weak EU economy and a bumper Spanish crop. China’s growing imports have helped support global olive oil prices.
The following table shows China’s imports of olive oil in the past few years.
The growing trade figure has also pushed Chinese companies to seek takeover targets overseas that can help meet demand for olive oil back home.
In 2012, six investors from China’s textile, garment and agribusiness industries secured a $15.47 million deal for the purchase of the olive oil company Kailis Organic Olive Groves, which owned 3,813 hectares of plantations in Western Australia.
Another major deal was sealed by Jiangxi Qinglong Group, which invested $32 million in Australia to purchase 5,000 hectares of olive plantations last year, as well as half of the shares in Tatiara Olive Processing Pty, a major olive oil processing company in Keith, South Australia.
The Chinese company intends to invest another $12 million to purchase new equipment and build needed infrastructure to ensure future production. This project is expected to produce 25,716 metric tons of extra virgin olive oil after 15 years and achieve sales revenue of $157 million by then. Both Australia and China will be its main target markets.
Shanghai-based Bright Food Group has bought a majority stake in Italian olive oil producer Salov Group, the company announced on Oct.7, 2014.
Shanghai Yimin No 1 Food Factory, a subsidiary of Bright Food, signed the deal with the Fontana family in Milan on Oct 1, according to a statement published on the buyer’s website.
Bright Food is a big name in dairy industry as well as categories of rice, pork and vegetable in China. It now has four listed subsidiaries.
In the online statement, Bright Food promised to stick to Salov’s values and missions and help promote its development in China.
Salov operates mainly in olive oil and other vegetable cooking oil. It distributes products under the Sagra brand name in Italy and Filippo Berio in overseas markets.
The oil maker currently markets its products in over 60 countries including China and maintains a leading position in Britain and the United States.
In spite of the adverse geographic conditions, a number of Chinese companies have invested in growing olives to take a part of this growing market with domestic products.
Tianyuan in Sichuan started planting olives in 1974 as part of State sponsored project. The company produces cooking oil and olive oil based cosmetics. Tianyuan cooperates with Chengdu University for its R&D.
Garden City (the Chinese name is also pronounced Tianyuan, but with different characters) in Gansu is another domestic producer, established in 1998. It produces olive oil, cosmetics and olive leaf extracts.
Another Gansu-based producer, Longcui is advertising its olive oil as a high-end product with three types of certifications: Gansu Specialty, DOC and Organic.
China currently has 29 producers of olive oil with a total capacity exceeding 50,000 mt p.a. The amount of land devoted to olive growing was reported to amount to 86,000 hectares. Domestic production covers about 12% of the country’s current needs.
The 16th China International High End Edible Oil & Olive Oil Beijing Expo 2017 was held in the China International Exhibition Centre, Beijing, April 17 – 19; the Shanghai International Exhibition Centre, August 30 – September 1; the Chengdu New International Exhibition Centre, October 12 -14.
Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.
Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975.