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 93 of 159

"First of all, everyone suddenly knew where Tunisia was located on the world map," Thabet says. "People took the time to visit our producers' booths, to taste the unique flavors of the Tunisian olive oil, and definitely started talking business. But one of the great takeaways from this show, however, was the unanimous outpour- ing of affection and support for Tunisians for their courageous people's revolution. It seemed widely understood that although it was surprising, it was an inevitable step in the growth and maturity of Tunisia." Now a year later, this North African country—located to the south of Italy and Malta—has successfully completed its first elec- tions and is moving ahead with the difficult work of carving out a new government and creating new opportunities for its people. One of the prospects many hope will succeed is the greater expansion of its bottled olive oils into the international market. It's a change that had already been in the works but recently has gained momentum. A Commodity Steeped in Tradition As with many Mediterranean countries, Tunisia has a long and rich history in making olive oils. Since the 8th century BC, Tunisians have had a strong relationship with and pride in their olive oil. "From the north to the south, you won't find a single area where the olive tree does not grow," Thabet notes. One of the strengths of Tunisia's olive oil is the assortment of olive trees. "Olive oil comes in many varieties depending on olive type, climate and soil conditions, which contribute to the diversity of olive oil flavors, colors and aromas," Thabet explains. She notes that the two main olive varieties are chemlali and chetoui, but more than 20 types are offered by Tunisian olive groves. "All of our Tunisian olives are traditionally harvested, helping them retain a unique bouquet, a full flavor and a distinctive texture that you get from eating the olive at its source," she adds. From Bulk to Bottled While Tunisia has exported tons of oil for years, international appreciation of Tunisian olive oil was hampered by the fact that it was being shipped to other countries and sold under their olive oil brands, Thabet notes. In the late 2000s the country launched a new program focusing on creating bottled olive oil under a Tunisian label. "Since olive oil is the number-one agricultural export, it made 100percent tunisia.com for olive oil producers sense to put their muscle behind bottled oil," says Al Hamman, director of Hamman Marketing Associates, who has been working with Tunisian companies since 2000, helping to introduce the country and its prod- ucts to the U.S. market. "The main goal of the program has been to turn Tunisia from a no-name olive oil that's been blended with oils from around the world into a branded product," Hamman explains. "Since our program promoting Visit 92 ❘ SPECIALTY FOOD MAGAZINE ❘ specialtyfood.com In 2011 Tunisian companies exported about 4,224 tons of bottled olive oil to the U.S. market. 100 percent Tunisian olive oil to the U.S. market began, exports of branded Tunisian olive oil have grown more than 500 per- cent. Tunisian olive oil is now available in several thousand retail locations across the country—and growing." The American Market One Tunisian company that has successfully transitioned from the bulk to bottled olive oil market is Cho America. The company's Terra Delyssa oils—which are offered as organic extra-virgin, con- ventional extra-virgin, pure and extra-light olive oil—can be found in more than 2,000 stores in North America including Whole Foods, World Market, The Fresh Market, HEB and more than 500 Loblaw's stores in Canada. "We started selling in the U.S. in 2000 but mainly servicing bulk importers. In the past four years we started selling [the] Terra Delyssa brand to retailers along with our private-label services," says Wajih Rekik, CEO of the company, whose family roots in olive oil production date to the 19th century. The company's oils have a range of certifications, including IFS, BRC, ISO 22000, HACCP, Kosher and USDA NOP Organic, and are made from ten different types of olives including chetoui, chemlali, zarrazi and arbequina. "Tunisia has a variety of flavors: a strong fruity, peppery oil in the north and much smoother and milder flavor down south, mak- ing the country self-sufficient to offer any preferred flavor profile requested by any international market," Rekik says. It's this range of flavors that speaks to consumers and culinary experts alike. Chef Roy Breiman, culinary director of Cedarbrook Lodge in Seattle, first learned of Tunisian olive oils from friends and then through trade missions to the country. He uses the oils in his restaurant because of what they add to the food. "I appreciate the olive oils a lot. I like the uniqueness of the microclimates, including those closer to the Mediterranean and those in hotter parts of the country, and that there are small, unique farms that are doing some good stuff—good farmers who are think- ing about sustainability and organics," Breiman says. "I use the chemlali and the chemlali-and-chetoui blend as finishing oils. The chemlali has a nice bouquet to start with, a beautiful nose, a good mouth feel, and the viscosity of the oil is just right for me; it's a little bit thick. I use it as much more of an accent than a component to the dish." The restaurant includes the olive oils as a light accent on salads and grilled fish, in emulsion sauces and with a lamb or veal shoulder confit.

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