There’s a profusion of olive oil brands in the market as health-conscious, upwardly mobile Indians make it the cooking medium of choice.

Indian taste buds are flowering, thanks primarily to international cookery and health food shows on television. Sure enough, olive oil is grabbing prime space on kitchen shelves, as it is said to be healthier and less fattening. Used primarily for massages till about a decade ago, olive oil has emerged as one of the healthiest cooking mediums in India. Rising health awareness coupled with promotional campaigns run by both exporting nations and Indian importers have aided the trend.

About 40-odd brands have emerged over the past decade with importers and local traders joining the growing bandwagon with their own variants. Multinationals Borges and Cargill have introduced their brands, while domestic brands such as Leonardo from Dalmia Continental have grown market share.

“People didn’t know how to use olive oil in the normal daily diet. We provided them a way to include it in everyday food through awareness campaigns,” says V. N. Dalmia, Chairman of Dalmia Continental Pvt Ltd. The increasing awareness of its health benefits has prompted many a consumer to switch over.

Dalmia, the largest importer, says olive pomace oil, most suited for Indian cuisine because of its neutral taste and high smoke point, is clocking the fastest volume growth over the other varieties – extra virgin olive oil and olive oil.

“Metros and Tier I towns are leading the consumption charts, but other small towns are also showing a lot of promise,” says Rajneesh Bhasin, Managing Director, Borges India Pvt Ltd, the subsidiary of the 116-year-old Borges Group of Spain. Borges has quickly expanded its direct presence to all top 35 cities and is growing.

Rising affordability and health consciousness coupled with increasing exposure to Western lifestyles are driving the consumption of olive oil. “Increasing aspirations and willingness to experiment with a variety of cuisines and acceptability of functional foods are important factors in driving a positive change in the consumption habits,” says Bhasin.

The volume growth clocked by players such as Bharti-Delmonte, Borges and Dalmia continues to attract newer entrants. Adani Wilmar, a large player in edible oils, is planning to bring its partner’s brand into India, while domestic firm Modi Naturals recently launched Oleev in Northern markets.

Its growing use as a cooking medium is driving olive oil imports, which stood at 6,500 tonnes in 2011-12 and are poised to cross the 10,000-tonne mark this financial year. The bulk of them continues to be from Spain and Italy. “About 80 per cent of the imported olive oil is now used for cooking as against 20 per cent in 2003,” says Dalmia, who is also the president of Indian Olive Association, a trade body.

At all major supermarkets and modern retail outlets, the olive oil brands now find prominence. The space for display on the shelves has seen an increase. Despite being three to four times more costlier than other premium edible oils, the Mediterranean product is finding an increase in the number of takers here. India’s per capita consumption of olive oil stood at about 0.0054 kg till March 2012, while the corresponding global figure is about 0.43 kg. The per capita consumption of edible oils is 13 kg per annum against the global average of 24 kg.

Modi Naturals Ltd is planning a national roll-out for Oleev brands soon targeting the metros, Tier I and Tier II cities, says company director Akshay Modi. The Pilibhit-based firm expects big growth in the category.

Players such as Modi Naturals are experimenting further by creating and launching a blend of olive oil with rice bran oil – Oleev Active. “With Oleev Active, we have developed a proprietary formula called Energocules.

It gives energy, helps prevent lifestyle diseases and reduces fat intake by up to 20 per cent,” claims Modi, adding that the market has responded well to this blend that is being recommended for daily use.

“We are here for a very long innings and will continue to invest in the category, consumer and brand to the maximum extent possible,” Bhasin of Borges adds. Borges, Bhasin claims, is the first olive oil band to do a television commercial with a Bollywood celebrity - Chitrangada Singh.

The large players continue to invest in building brands and believe the market is headed for consolidation.

“The smaller brands will face a churn as consolidation seems inevitable,” says Dalmia, adding that they don’t have the wherewithal to invest in building brands and creating awareness.

Concurring with Dalmia, Akshay Modi says, “People trust a brand that comes from a good manufacturer that stands for quality, as opposed to traders and importers whose source is unknown or unreliable and are in it for the short term”.

Dalmia aims to more than double its revenues this year to about Rs 100 crore. The company plans to spend about 8 per cent of its sales turnover on brand building and create awareness against 2 per cent of the sales two years ago. The producing countries, which see much growth potential in India, are funding the promotional campaigns and are likely to step up activities here once their exports cross the threshold of 10,000 tonnes.

The olive oil primer

Olives are primarily grown in Mediterranean countries, but in India their cultivation is poised for take-off in Rajasthan.

The State Government has floated a special purpose vehicle in collaboration with private players to give olive cultivation a shot. At present, olives are grown in about 150 hectares (ha) on a pilot basis and cold pressing is likely to begin later this year.

Rajasthan Olive Cultivation Ltd is targeting an area of 5,000 ha in the State over the next three years.

WHY USE OLIVE OIL

Olive oil, extracted from olive fruit, has the highest content of monosaturated fatty acids (MUFA), which helps reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. It helps reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides.

Has zero trans-fats.

Rich in oleic acid and excellent source of antioxidants

TYPES

Extra virgin olive oil is extracted by cold pressing olives. It is the highest grade of olive oil and has the perfect aroma and flavour. It can be used in salad dressings, flavourings and for body massage.

Olive oil is a blend of refined olive oil and extra virgin olive oil. It is an intermediate grade oil with medium aroma and flavour.

It can be used for frying stir-fries, sautés, stews, cake and pastries.

Olive pomace oil is extracted from residual paste of olives crushed to produce higher grades of oil earlier. It is mainly a cooking grade variety with neutral taste and flavour. It’s the most suited for Indian cuisine.

Source: Indian Olive Association

(This article was published on July 19, 2012)
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