Food-safety scares push China towards olive oil imports

olive oil Chinese market

Olive oil producers are seeing a rise in demand from Chinese consumers.

Not traditionally found in Chinese cuisine, wealthy Chinese consumers are buying up olive oil for its health benefits. This spike in demand is being felt by olive oil producers globally, reports the Wall Street Journal.

A string of domestic food-safety scares including tainted milk and antibiotics-laced chicken have spurred consumers to look for healthy, imported food products. Advertising campaigns championing the health benefits of olive oil in cooking are further boosting demand.

Last year China spent US$184 million on imported olive oil, up 9.3% from 2012, and a huge increase from US$1 million a decade ago. The oil’s popularity is driving companies to buy Australian olive groves in order to secure the supply. As a result of recent deals, Chinese and Asian investors now own 10% of all of Australia’s olive oil output, Tim Smith, sales and marketing director at Boundary Bend Ltd., Australia’s largest producer of extra-virgin oil told the WSJ.

In January this year Chinese-owned Australia Organic Olive OIl Co. started packaging its olive oil from the olive groves it purchased in 2012 from Kailis Organic Olive Groves Ltd. in Western Australia.

“There are a lot of wealthy Chinese willing to pay for high-quality olive oil to ensure they have the ‘real thing'”, Lisa Rowntree, chief executive of the Australian Olive Association growers group, was quoted in the WSJ.

Australia, however, only accounts for a small proportion of the world’s olive oil production, Spain provides 45-50 percent of the global output, and supplies 60 percent of that consumed in China. Italy, Greece, and North African countries are also seeing increased demand from China.

“There is enormous potential for continuous growth in Chinese olive oil use over the next two decades, although perhaps not at the explosive rate of 30 percent or 40 percent annual growth seen in past five years,” said Manuel Leon, the Shanghai representative of Andalusia’s export promotion agency Extenda, according to the Wall Street Journal.