By Peter Roberts
Homer called olive oil liquid gold, but to one Australian company its qualities have morphed an idea into an emerging global force in an age old and seemingly unchanging industry in only 25 years.
When horticulturalists Rob McGavin and Paul Riordan planted an initial 200 hectares of olives in 1998 it is hard to imagine that could see their business challenging the world order in the same way as did Australian wines.
At the company’s recent annual general meeting Chairman Rob McGavin looked back over the business founded: “From humble beginnings, Cobram Estate Olives (CBO) is now recognised as a global leader in all aspects of the olive industry, from growing and milling, research and marketing.
“Our vertically integrated operations are now firmly established on two continents, and we are being rewarded by consumers for our commitment to quality, innovation and sustainability.”
Cobram today produces 70 percent of Australia’s olive crop from its own groves, with its US business set this year set to become their biggest producer, with nearly 35 percent of domestic olive oil production.
Remember this is a market awash with subsidised oils from the EU, and with oils claiming to be ‘extra virgin’ that are clearly anything but.
Anyone who has travelled in Europe might marvel at how their aged vines, planted in soils exhausted from thousands of years of agriculture could produce the highest quality product. But that is not the same thing as an upstart showing the experts how to do it.
McGavin told investors: “Our proprietary, integrated olive production system, Oliv.iQ production system…allows us to be one of the lowest cost producers of olive oil globally, and at the same time produce olive oil that is ranked in the 10 ten percent of quality worldwide.
“This is unique and almost unheard of in any industry.”
Backing this is science with the company’s staff publishing 30 peer reviewed research papers in the last decades.
The company’s assets other than their brands are worth more than $700 million and not easily replaceable – olive trees take eight years to fruit.
But branding is critical – the company’s Cobram Estate and Red Ochre labels don’t pretend they are from the Mediterranean, and they ‘say’ just what they are – simple, pure, olive oil.
I admit to being a fan of olive oil and Cobram.
Olive oil is unadulterated in a world where oils are increasing processed using heat, chemicals and solvents.
As for Cobram its products have the the same fresh, young, different attractions that new world wines led by Australia brought to Europe’s conservative wine industries.
That story began in the Barossa Valley and look how far it has come – imagine how far Cobram and its oilive oils still have to go.
Picture: Cobram Estate Olives