There are 800 million olive trees in the world with 700 million of them in the Mediterranian area and 140 million of them in Greece. Olive oil is a very important part of Greek nutrition. The Greek consumer is very particular to the oil he uses in his diet. He has known it for years, has identified himself with it and will not accept anything less than the quality he is used to. Olive oil is considered a sacred food in Greece and no alterations or changes of any kind are allowed. Greece has laws that regulate the quality of olive oil and these laws are strictly enforced for the protection of the consumer. But more important than that, the Greek farmer takes a special pride in the production of olive oil. Extra care is taken at all stages of olive oil production and packaging and standards are kept very high indeed.
The olive oil packaging industry, one of the oldest and healthiest industries in Greece, numbers several large enterprises with international ties as well as medium or family sized enterprises. The packaging of olive oil is done according to the stringent quality control with many companies functioning under ISO or HACCP quality control rules. Companies check more than 25 parameters in every olive oil batch. It is an extremely high cost procedure, but the consumer can be certain that it exists and that the specifications he will find on labels correspond to the content of the container.
Numerous agreements have been drawn up and legislation keeps piling in recent years to assure company reliability and safety control. Extra Virgin Olive Oil, the category mainly produced in Greece (75% of total Greek production) comes in four styles: Regular Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Organic Extra Virgin, Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Extra Virgin and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). In fact, most of Greek olive oil could be considered organic even though it may not have the official seal, as many producers do very little by way of fertilization and spraying has been banned. And most certainly all regionally available olive oils (i.e. Eliki Extra Virgin Olive Oil), with no national distribution could well claim the designation of PDO as they are locally produced and packaged, or PGI as they are locally produced and/or packaged.
One then would ask; why this does not apply for other countries such as Spain and Italy? The answer is quite simple really; olive oil imports in Greece are nonexistent. The only olive oil available in Greece is Greek olive oil, no danger of getting any other kind of origin of olive oil. There are no blends or mixtures of Greek and foreign olive oils, something that is common practice in other olive oil producing countries. When it says Greek olive oil it is nothing else but Greek olive oil. We may do not import but exports is a profitable business in Greece. Greek olive oil production is in excess of 420,000 tons annually. Greece, even though quite small, holds 3rd place among the olive oil producing countries. Per capita consumption on the other hand is the highest in the world - 19 kilos annually.
Still, there is enough left for almost half of the annual production (app. 190,000 tons) to be exported. In fact Greece is the world's largest exporter of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The olive oil industry in the world is well aware of the superior quality and the excellent organoleptic properties of Greek olive oil. The exported Greek olive oil is blended with other local oils in order to grant its unparalleled taste and aroma to olive oil packaged and sold elsewhere. Greek Olive Oil is mainly exported to the E.U., 90% of total olive oil exports (80% in bulk plus 10% Greek branded olive oil). There is a rise of exports though towards other non-European countries such as Canada, U.S.A., Australia, Japan and an opening for new markets such as China, Southeast Asia, Argentina and others.
The presence of Greek branded olive oil in the international market has for many years been limited. It was not easy for the average consumer to get Greek olive oil. In recent years though there has been a steady change. Greek exports have increased greatly. This increase to a certain extent reflects the upward swing in overall olive oil consumption due to the shift towards healthy nutrition and the consequent proliferation of Mediterranean cuisine. And as the international consumer learns to recognize the value of olive oil, he comes to recognize what the experts already know: the incomparable virtues and personality of Greek olive oil. National promotional campaigns run in the U.S. (1992-1999), Canada (1994-1999) and Australia (1999-2001) have also made a difference as Greek olive oil has become more visible. Pricewise it is usually more expensive than other olive oils but so is the best quality in all food products, you can't have champagne for the price of a common sparkling wine. You get what you pay for.