In Greece, the price of olive oil soars, consumers panic


In his food packaging company located in the suburbs of Athens, Orestis Rois looks sad. The fifty-year-old experienced the economic crisis (2010-2018), the Covid-19 pandemic, but the inflation in the price of olive oil is, for him, “the worst nightmare”. “All Greek families cook with olive oil, the restaurants we work with do too, sighs Orestis Kings. You can do without buying clothes, you can do without vacations, we did that for several years during the recession, but you can’t do without a drizzle of olive oil on your Greek salad ! »

In the center of Athens, Katerina Vlachou makes the same observation at the supermarket: “Prices have more than doubled in one year… I don’t want to give up olive oil, which is known for its virtues and which is part of my culture. But with these prices, if the government does nothing to cap prices, I risk having to resign myself to buying sunflower oil, which is three times cheaper! » Just a year ago, a liter of olive oil purchased from the producer cost around 4 euros, it is now 7.60 euros. On store shelves, a liter costs 12 euros.

And yet the 2022-2023 harvest looked promising for Greece, with 340,000 tonnes produced, an increase of 47% compared to 2021-2022. “ But global demand is higher than production and, for the first time, the world’s largest olive oil producer, Spain, saw its production fall by around 55%, partly due to drought. , which had an impact on the entire Mediterranean basin », explains Vasilis Frantzolas, olive oil sommelier.

Since March, Spanish and Italian entrepreneurs have come to buy olive oil from Greek producers, several of them testify in the center-right newspaper Kathimerini. “Representatives of a Spanish company came to buy Greek olive oil because they lacked it in their country, says a producer from the Peloponnese, Nikos Dimas. At the time, they offered us 5.50 euros per liter, it was a good price because until then we were selling it for around 4 euros. The quantities of olive oil that remained in reserve therefore decreased, leading to an automatic increase in prices. »

Read also (2022): In Greece, supermarkets forced to adopt preferential prices on basic products

Lack of irrigation and lack of labor

In August, those who still had olive oil sold a liter for 8 euros. From now on, we will have to wait for the next olive harvest, but the forecasts are not good. In 2023-2024, Greek production is expected to be between 160,000 and 170,000 tonnes, almost half of the previous one. “We risk seeing a liter of olive oil cost around 15-16 euros in the supermarket and not being able to export a lot,” warns Vasilis Frantzolas. Every other year is good for olive production. “ This year was supposed to be good, so next year will be less so. To this must be added the lack of rain and the high temperatures last spring when the olive trees were flowering, which risk having negative consequences on production., specifies the expert. According to him, it is difficult to increase production: “It’s not an industry. It takes on average eight years for olive trees to be productive. »

But according to other specialists, measures could be taken such as setting up better irrigation systems and above all looking for workers to harvest in abandoned fields all over Greece. Their owners, who have often left the countryside for the city, no longer find olive pickers, immigrant workers having often preferred to leave for other European countries where salaries are more attractive. The Greek Ministry of Migration is considering signing agreements with Egypt, Bangladesh or Pakistan to allow agricultural workers to come temporarily to Greece for the season, but is struggling to put them in place, particularly in the face of a section of the conservative party. and the electorate reluctant to any measure favorable to immigration.

Olive-shaped GPS on trees

Faced with the increase in the price of olive oil, thefts of this “liquid gold” are increasing. At the beginning of October, in the Peloponnese, more than 100 kilos of olives were stolen from a producer’s shed. Then, ten days ago, a 79-year-old man who kept 200 liters of olive oil in his garage was robbed near Lamia, in the center of the country. “They knew what they were looking for because they transferred my oil into drums and they didn’t take anything else”he reports to the local press.

On the island of Crete, farmers have found a technique: putting olive-shaped GPS devices on their trees. “ The object is connected via an application to the mobile phone and as soon as it moves more than 3 or 4 meters from the olive tree, the owner is alerted”, notes the vice-president of the Heraklion agricultural cooperative union, Miro Chiletzakis. For Vasilis Frantzolas, “thefts are minimal”. The real problem is more the proliferation of scams: “For example, olive oil, without a label, which is sold in bulk, and which can be mixed with sunflower oil without the consumer realizing it,” he continues.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers Soaring olive oil prices alarm Spaniards

Faced with the looming shortage of olive oil, supermarkets have already taken measures and are limiting purchases to four one-liter bottles per person. But for Vasilis Frantzolas, the measure that would really relieve consumers would be to “lower VAT by 13% on olive oil”, a legacy of the economic crisis and austerity measures imposed on Greece. In Spain, the VAT on this product, so essential to the Mediterranean diet, is 5%.

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