Chilean olive oil producers go green

New sustainability efforts in the industry reduce energy costs and help improve Chilean olive oil’s already booming export success.

The olive oil craze has officially spilled across the world. From its traditional large market, principally Spain and Italy, demand for the healthy cooking staple is growing fast, especially in the huge U.S. market, and Chilean producers have been quick to engage the trend — recently improving sustainable practices to boost export sales and reduce waste in the process.

Gabriela Moglia is the general manager of industry association ChileOliva, which represents 70 percent of the country’s olive oil producers. She explained that although young, the Chilean industry already enjoys a strong reputation in the international market.

“Chilean olive oil is maximum quality, extra virgin, and the industry is focused on quality,” Moglia told bUSiness Chile, adding that the new frontier for expanding sales is increasingly focused on raising sustainable practices and developing a green brand image.

To this end ChileOliva decided to accept the invitation of US-based non-profit the World Environment Center (WEC) to participate in a pilot project aimed at improving environmental performance as well as energy efficiency through cleaner production practices.

Moglia said that greater efficiency does more for the industry than cut down some costs.

“This benefits productivity, but the other benefit we see is improving the image the industry projects to the world,” she explained.

So far the project has produced improvements in water usage, a particularly important goal for the considerable numbers of plantations in the country’s central north regions located near the Atacama Desert, well known as the driest place in the world.

Olive trees were first planted in the continent by Spanish colonists in the 16th century. Ultimately, it was Chile’s numerous temperate zones — particularly the microclimates produced by the collision between mountain and maritime conditions — were the fruit thrived. However, for many years growers produced almost exclusively for the home market until the mid-20th century when production began to expand under the innovative eye of several entrepreneurs.

In 2011, Chilean producers harvested 19,000 tons of olives destined for the press, a dramatic increase on the annual intake of less than 600 tons just a decade before. Exports have also thrived. According to trade body ProChile, in 2012, the industry was value had grown by 52 percent from the year before, putting the total value at US$36 million dollars, equivalent to 10.228 tons.

By 2015, exports of Chilean olive oil are predicted to exceed  US$100 million and experts point to the numerous emerging markets where local producers could make a splash.