Specialty Food Magazine

JAN-FEB 2012

Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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Page 127 of 159

(continued from p. 93) CATEGORY SPOTLIGHT MOROCCO'S OLIVE OILS: A FOCUS ON FINE EXTRA-VIRGIN PRODUCTS Through modernization of facilities and techniques, this country is turning its export energy to extra-virgin oils and an expansion of olive groves and varieties. F or decades, Morocco—well known for its pristine Picholine olive groves that thrive on the foothills of the Atlas Mountains—has exported its olives and olive oil to other European countries. The country is currently the world's second-largest olive exporter, after Spain, with an estimated 60,000 tons. Morocco ranks fifth in olive oil exports, with more than 90 percent of its olive oil produced from the Picholine variety, according to MAROC Export, the Moroccan Center for Export Promotion, a government agency in charge of export development. But it's only in recent years that the country has focused on exporting fine extra-virgin olive oil to the U.S. Morocco has a plethora of what it takes to make a good-quality extra-virgin olive oil, including the ideal climate for olive cultivation in the main growing regions near Taounate, Taza, Fez, Meknes, Beni Mellal and Marrakech, where Picholine groves are abundant. But in the past, say producers, the country's old-fashioned and dogmatic ways regarding production, antiquated equipment and an interest in quantity rather than quality, had steered focus away from international export of high-end oils. Now all that is changing. Producers are winning awards, in Morocco and internationally, and the country is putting its efforts into promotion of its finer-quality offerings, as well as building awareness of Moroccan olive oil in general. "People don't realize that when they buy a private-label–brand- ed olive oil it is a blend, and there is a good chance that it contains oil from Morocco and other North African countries," says Ersilia Moreno, owner of Olive Oil of the World, an online store that sells olive oils specializing in indigenous olive species. Through her shop, Moreno currently offers Desert Miracle, a high-end variety from Atlas Olive Oil, one of Morocco's oldest and most established olive oil farms. Olive tree plantation in Morocco. A Growing Reputation for Fine Oils "The potential for Morocco to export its olive oil [to the U.S.] is huge," says Mustapha Haddouch, owner of Mustapha's Fine Foods, in Seattle, Wash. Some 15 years ago, Haddouch helped to lay the groundwork for the introduction of Moroccan olive oil to the American palate. Working with a small grower in Morocco, he took a hands-on approach with the production process, making sure the product achieved an acceptable flavor profile. The resulting olive oil, which bore a nutty aftertaste, was named Mustapha's Moroccan Extra Virgin Olive Oil and in 1999 went on to win an NASFT sofi Award in the Outstanding Oil category. In the past two to three years, with help from the Moroccan government to further develop the olive oil industry in Northern Africa, Morocco's olive oil trade is gaining ground, and its reputa- tion for fine extra-virgin oils is building, helping the country become a key player in the emerging global olive oil scene. Expanding Business The United Nations Industrial Development Organization, whose mission is to promote and accelerate sustainable industrial devel- opment in economies in transition, has been successfully working with small-scale Moroccan producers to improve existing modes of production. This process has included upgrading and modernizing facilities and campaigning to market local products professionally to heighten the value of Moroccan olive oil. UNIDO has even assisted in the planting of more trees to cultivate additional olive varieties such as Spanish arbequina and Moroccan dahbia olive, part of an olive grove expansion program. In 2008, the Moroccan government introduced the Green Plan for Agriculture to incentivize farmers in many rural and mountainous areas to switch from wheat or other crops to olive trees. 126 ❘ SPECIALTY FOOD MAGAZINE ❘ specialtyfood.com

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