Chilean olive oil exports have increased from under 200 tons annually in 2004 to nearly 2000 tons annually in 2009 by targeting the niche gourmet markets of major North American urban centers. With these increases Chile has become the tenth largest olive oil producing country in the world, responsible for 0.2% of the world’s total olive oil production.
Rather than attempting to compete with major mass exporters like Spain and Italy, Chile has taken advantage of the ideal growing conditions in its Central Valley (long celebrated for its wines) to produce gourmet olive oils aimed at specialized markets in the US and Europe. These gourmet olive oils, many made using organic techniques and typically Chilean ingredients like the chili powder merken, have garnered attention from American media sources like Esquire and Food & Wine.
A study conducted by ChileOliva, an association of Chilean olive oil producers, suggests that American urban centers like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, with populations interested in non-traditional and artisanal products, will be the most fruitful base for Chilean exports of olive oil. Meanwhile, companies aimed at marketing Chilean food products in the US have ensured a strong presence for Chile at events like the Fancy Food Show in New York, San Francisco and Washington DC, where Chile had the 4th largest international pavilion behind only European mainstays Italy, France and Spain.
The beginning of the dramatic increase in exports of olive oil to the US coincided with the passage of the Free Trade Agreement in 2004 lifting tariffs from 87% of Chilean imports. First produced commercially in Chile in 1952, olive oil has only recently experienced a production boom and entered the mainstream Chilean diet. Along with the drastic increase in olive oil production and exports since 2004, consumption of olive oil within Chile has increased 300%. At Universidad de Chile, the faculty of Agricultural Sciences has introduced a popular program focused on methods for producing olive oil, a clear marker of the optimism inspired by the success of Chilean olive oil exports thus far.