Kochi: Olive oil imports have been on the rise on the back of growing health consciousness among the urban middle class in India.
The New Delhi-based Indian Olive Association, a national body of olive oil distributors, importers and consumers, sees great consumption growth through the affluent 35 million population in the country.
Olive oil, extracted from the fruit by crushing it, is produced mainly in Spain, Italy, Tunisia, Syria, Algeria, Morocco and Turkey. The annual global production is estimated at 3.2 million tonnes (mt) of which nearly one-third is in Spain.
Healthy choice: Bottles of L’Olio d’Oliva Di Bennardo olive oil at a company factory in Italy. Olive oil is in high demand in India now.
Indian imports have grown from 1,400 tonnes in 2006-07 to 2,300 tonnes last year, according to V.N. Dalmia, president of the association. The association expects it to be more than 4,500 tonnes this year.
Recently, the Rajasthan government initiated a plan to grow olive trees in the state with Israeli support. Around 25 million ha of land is expected to be covered under this. However, it will take at least five years before oil is produced in India.
The edible olive oil industry is growing at an impressive rate of 90% and is projected to grow at 150% by 2010, says Dalmia, who is also chairman of Dalmia Continental Pvt. Ltd, which has its brand of Leonardo olive oil.
The association expects the imports to reach 42,000 tonnes in the next three years, supported by the Spain-based International Olive Council, a global body of olive oil traders, which is launching a promotional campaign in India.
H. Pardiwala, business development manager of RR Oomerbhoy Pvt. Ltd, a Mumbai-based trading firm that imports the Filippoberio brand of olive oil, said the international council sees India, with a high incidence of cardiac problems, as a major market for olive oil.
“Health consciousness and awareness of the potential of olive oil in combating cardiac problems could make India attain the targeted level,” Pardiwala said.
“Among all oils, olive oil has the highest content of monounsaturated fatty acids, which reduce bad cholesterol and triglycerides. It is no longer seen as an oil merely for massage, but one for cooking,” said Dalmia.
Growing popularity of Italian cuisine, cooked in olive oil, has also contributed to higher levels of consumption in India, Dalmia said, adding that several big hotel chains are now major consumers of this oil.
There are three grades of olive oil. The highest quality is the raw juice of the fruit and is used mainly for salad dressing, flavourings and condiments or body massage. Priced at more than Rs700 a litre, its share in the country’s olive oil imports is around 20%.
The intermediary refined variety, pure olive oil, is used for massage as well as preparation of cakes and pastries but it is not suitable for cooking Indian cuisines. Priced at Rs600 a litre, it accounts for 55% of the market.
The lower grade cooking oil, olive pomace, priced at around Rs400 a litre, accounts for the rest of the market.
Even though the government has reduced the import duty to a uniform 7.5% for all varieties of olive oil this fiscal, down from 40-45% for different varieties, Dalmia does not expect the prices to come down.
This is because of the sharp drop in the value of the rupee vis-a-vis the euro.