Unilever explains the processing and packaging considerations that need to be taken into account before a top-end olive oil product can be launched.
The European olive oil market has enjoyed a growth rate of above 3 per cent for the past 5 years. Food giant Unilever claims to have been a major influencing factor for this incremental growth through the success of its Bertolli brand, and the group is now the market leader for the distribution of olive oil in Europe and Worldwide.
Recently, the company decided to launch a new, premium quality olive oil in what consumers might perceive to be an authentic traditional container.
"Using our team's expertise, a superior olive oil was developed using carefully selected Mediterranean grown olives which we decided to call 'Puget Héritage," said Marina Testu, brand manager for Puget Olive Oil.
Based on an extensive consumer research study, Puget decided to stress the authenticity and pure nature of Puget Héritage, thus tapping into current consumers concerns of health and quality of life.
Tinplate containers were traditionally the preferred packaging medium for olive oil, together with glass bottles, and for this reason a classical steel container was chosen for Puget Héritage. In addition to its authentic appeal, the packaging features a pouring mechanism and screw cap.
An additional advantage of the steel container is the fact that the tinplate can protects the olive oil from light, which is imperative in maintaining the high quality of the product. The packaging is also unbreakable and safe for children.
Another key factor behind the decision to use steel was shelf impact. Virtually all olive oil in France is packed in glass or PET bottles, and Puget Héritage steel cans therefore clearly differentiate the product from the competition.
In the end, the launch of the product made good business sense. France's share of European olive oil consumption rose from 4.8 per cent in 1990 to 5.3 per cent in 2002. After several years of considerable growth, the total French olive oil market had stabilised and in 2003 reached maturity with a stable 0.2 per cent growth in volume.
The market nevertheless still offers real growth potential with a per capita consumption of 1.5 litre/year, as compared to nearly 15.1 litre/year in Spain.
"The total cooking oil market for France in 2003 was more than 250 million litres with olive oil representing more than 20 per cent market share with 56 million litres, the remainder composed mainly of sunflower seed oil and various other oil mixes," said Testu. "However, in value terms the olive oil market is the most important with a 52 per cent share, and is the only cooking oil in France which has had sustainable growth over the last decade."
Puget is now Unilever's main olive oil brand in France, and is the country's brand leader with a 31 per cent market share of the total French olive oil market.