Advancing Tunisia’s Olive oil sector

February 11, 2021

It’s February 2021. The Corona virus pandemic continues to affect all regions of Tunisia. Oussama Belhadi, manager of Olivna, an award-winning organic olive oil producer located in Kef, faces the situation with calm and poise.

“Comforted by the support of the Mashrou3i Project, we are navigating our business as best we can through this third wave of the virus,” explains Oussama. “Since last April, we have faced the stagnation of global markets and are awaiting the recovery of the retail and hospitality sectors.”

For the Belhadi family, like many Tunisian families, producing olive oil is a centuries-old tradition, passed down from generation to generation.

“With Olivna we wanted to enhance the value of this noble product, to make our olive oil a product par excellence, exported to the all corners of the world,” explains Oussama. “I invested myself totally for several years. I participated in training courses for tasting, analysis and I learned to master the different qualities of olive oil.”

Oussama has a degree in accounting and worked several years in finance in the industrial sector before deciding to leave his job in 2012 to focus totally on launching Olivna. Today, he works closely with two business associates; one in Tunisia and the other in the United States. A market study conducted by the trio revealed the huge potential of the American market. In 2016, after 4 years constructing the factory and installing the laboratory, Olivna was ready to start exporting.

“Meeting an expert from the Mashrou3i Project in December 2019 opened up the possibility to export to the USA and UK,” continues Oussama. “Obtaining the British Retail Consortium (BRC) food certification is a barrier to entry for many companies in this sector. Technical assistance provided by Mashrou3i enabled us to get certified, paving the way for us to enter these markets.”

Currently, the USA is the largest importer of olive oil in the world. In 2019, Tunisia exported around 47,000 tons to this key market. A large amount of olive oil is exported as bulk. However, today, new olive oil exporters like Olivna are gaining a competitive advantage thanks to their high-quality, superior sensory characteristics, organic and food safety certifications, bottle design and good storytelling marketing.

Despite the stagnation of global markets, Oussama remains positive about the outlook for his business. Olivna has been able to retain its 10 permanent jobs, in addition to a workforce of 30 seasonal employees that it hires during the olive harvesting season. With the BRC certification and a growing number of awards from prestigious international olive oil competitions, his organic extra virgin olive continues to gain customers across the globe. Alongside the US market, Oussama is also exporting to France, Switzerland, Japan and the Middle East.

“Mashrou3i is currently conducting a marketing study which will enable us to identify new markets for Olivna,” says Oussama enthusiastically. “The future will certainly bring many changes but we are confident about growth of Tunisia’s olive oil sector and our company.”