Chairman’s Speech at the SA Olive Awards 2017

If you didn’t attend the SA Olive Awards evening on the 24th of August 2017, here’s SA Olive Chairman, Nick Wilkinson’s message to the SA olive industry that night:

“Congratulations to you all.  We’ve made it through another year despite a crippling drought, not much direction from government, no movement on the government’s national development plan, little and no growth in the economy, un-innovative crime and corruption, high unemployment and associated desperation amongst many of our travelled nations.  However, we are all here – a round of applause, you’ve made it.

Against this background, we’ve still managed to produce world class olive oil. Congratulations to our producers who’ve already won accolades in competitions across the world.  On the stages from the USA, through Europe, the Middle East and across to Japan – well done to those producers.  In addition to that, thanks to our producers who predominantly pursue the export markets and in so doing built a foundation of branding South Africa. Slowly but surely international markets are beginning to recognise the quality of South African olive oil.

The current nursery sales indicate increased plantings throughout the country and although our crop this year in 2017 is some 35% down of last year at an estimated 1,5 million litres we can look forward in doubling this in a very near short term, weather prevailing.  The international prices are up some 30% in Europe and if you take out Italy that is somewhere near 60% up, indicating possible shortages of olive oil in 2018 on the back of the drought and very high temperatures in Europe as well as growing consumption.

The POOLred index, and for those of you who don’t know, that’s an indicator of international prices and somewhat at the bottom of the barrel.  You take the pool index, convert it into current rates, our report apparently is short/north of R62 per litre – we haven’t had it so good for a long time.  The message in that is; don’t undersell your oil, any of you.  The growing number of international competitions are beginning to draw this public perception of award winning oils. I sure as many of you will know you are inundated with mails of asking you to enter – obviously pay your fee for competitions from places you’ve never heard of.  On the back of that, we as SA Olive need to aim high and ensure our own SA Olive competition maintain standards and along with our CTC programme gives all consumers comfort that we represent authenticity and the real deal for our accredited oils. The message – buy SA approved olive oil with confidence. Having said that, the market is good, but it is no time to rest on our laurels in this ever-changing world.

The European union is presently funding a five-country project under the name of ARISTOIL which aims, and I quote “to increase Mediterranean olive oil producers’ competitiveness by developing and applying innovative production and quality control methodologies leading to olive oil with enhanced health protecting properties as recognized by EU regulation 432/2012.”  The world is catching up to us and beginning to recognise the health properties of premium extra virgin olive oil; we don’t want to lose out.

International olive oil buyers are now asking for polyphenol content and even the make up of the different polyphenols before committing to premium prices. In South Africa, we don’t even have a laboratory that can analyse this. The workings of the world olive oil trade group, of which we are a member, and for those that don’t know, that’s a make up of the USA, Chile, Australia, South Africa – commonly known as the new world producers, are setting a new standard which is very similar to that of our own draft which differentiates us from the IOC, obviously representing European olive oils. So we are ahead of the game and we need to stay there.  The premium market wants fresh olive oil all year round. The Southern hemisphere produces less than 3% of world olive oil production. We can deliver, when the European olive oils are already 6 to 7 months old – opportunity knock sometimes very softly, we need to take advantage of this.  So, despite the current economic upheaval we’re in a good space right now and there’s work to be done and I know we can do it, so let’s stand and drink a toast to all in our industry.

I do need to put through a vote of thanks to my fellow directors, Tiaan Ras, Reni Hildenbrand and Linda Costa for leading the olive oil forum through many a debate culminating in our celebrations tonight for a well-run competition.  We know the personalities involved from retired business men who is used to getting their own way to farmers who is still beginning to understand the word delicate and getting all these people around the same table and getting agreement to carry forward with the competition we have tonight has been a hell of an achievement, believe you me after four or five years in this game.

Thank you to all those who participated in the long and drawn out meetings.  And lastly, a big thank you to Sue Langstaff for crossing the globe to visit here on the Southern tip of Africa and graciously securing her skills on sensory analysis. Some of you might not have known or you did not have read her background, but her sensory analysis skills don’t just cover olive oil, but indeed wine and beer as well. Whilst I did not manage attend any of her olive oil tasting courses, I did have the benefit of a dinner date with Sue and as the saying goes “there is no free lunch”, but I certainly concluded the dinner with working knowledge of sensory analysis of beer, wine and at the end olive oil.  I reached the conclusion that somehow olive oil tasting is much easier when it follows beer and wine.  In both leading the panel as well as imparting her knowledge to over a record of 100 participants in her 3 olive tasting courses we are richer for her visit. Thank you for coming and joining us in our country and leading us through this and imparting your knowledge in a fashion of English, not Italian – it was a lot easier for those who participated and we wish you and your husband an enjoyable safari and enjoy our beautiful country.

A vote of thanks to Karien.  You deal with all these strong personalities with your own reserved style, we thank you for your input.”

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