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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Tunisian Olive Oil Trade is Booming

European Olive oil standards, rules, and labeling regulations have tightened but when an olive oil label says ‘made in Tunisia,' it is 100% Tunisian.  Tunisia has become one of the largest producers of organic olive oil.

Although Tunisia has been making olive oil since Roman times, the country’s extra virgin has always been in the background, exporting vast quantities of olive oil to giant producers in Italy and Spain. There, the oil would be blended with the local oil and sold as their own. Fortunately for the country’s economy, things are beginning to change. Even though Tunisia still exports to Europe, private companies now bottle and package the oil at home before selling to the international market.  The Tunisian olive oil industry is poised for success, finally being recognized for its excellent organic oil. According to the Olive Oil Times, Tunisia now boasts 2,987 organic farmers, 66% of which are involved in exporting olive oil.

A tax break granted by the European Parliament to Tunisia in March 2016 will further strengthen the economy of this North African country. Tunisians producers can now export up to 35,000 tons more olive oil in 2016 and 2017 without any additional duties. This is welcoming news for a country where olives and olive oil play a major role not only in the economy but also in the environment section as well as providing jobs at home.

Here’s how one of those olive oil producers from this Africa’s smallest country is making a difference.

Huilerie Anis is a small business situated some 90 kilometers, or so from the capital city Tunis: this is where the Ben Fredj family grows olives to produce 95% certified biological olive oil.
 Anis Ben Fredj speaks with passion and commitment when he talks about the importance of quality management:

"We are in total control from A to Z of the olive oil we produce and export.  We grow our olives,  have our own mill and ensure the best  storage conditions for our fine olive oil,  even for the most demanding and refined customer,” he says enthusiastically.

At Huilerie Anis they grow the two main varieties of olives found in Tunisia   - Chetoui and Chemlali, which are hand-picked at harvest time and processed the same day. The company produces the extra virgin olive oil brand-- Oliviera Bio-- certified organic by Ecocert the French certification body for sustainable development. Their extra virgin olive oil- Le Soleil de Carthage made from ripe olives has an acidity of less than 0.5%.

Anis explained that the olives are sometimes blended, a challenge they have perfected over the years.   “It all depends on what flavor profile the customer wants”. Huilerie Anis now exports to Canada where Anis says they prefer more delicate oil.
“They like oil that’s not too spicy, so we mix Chetoui and Chemlali accordingly,” he added.

Today the company produces between 3, 000 and 4,000 tons of oil per year depending on the harvest but most of it exported in bulk and marketed without even mentioning the country of origin. The family would like to change this.

 I asked Anis what he hoped the company would achieve in next five years.
In a gentle but serious manner he replied:
“To commercialize more under our own name, we export in bulk to Spain and Italy, but  the country of origin is not known. What we would like is to increase this amount a little more every year.”

Tunisia produces around 25,00O tons of biological olive oil every year. Out of this, the Ben Fredj family concern produces about 4, 000 tons, which represents 15% of the national product, good results from this small business with strong family commitments.

Encouraging too for the future of Tunisian olive oil is the interest from Japan.
In November 2016, JICA, the Japan International Cooperation Agency visited Tunisia  with the aim of promoting Tunisian food products and olive oil.   This discovery might soon have Japanese chefs making sushi with Tunisian olive.

This positive image in international markets is encouraging for local olive growers who already recognize that the most important ingredients for a  burgeoning olive oil production in Tunisia are great initiative, commitment, and passion. Africa’s smallest country is now set  for a prominent position in the global olive oil market.   

Anis Ben Fredj from Huilerie Anis

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