Tunisian Olive Oil Finds a New Gourmet Market

Akram Tray, marketing and sales manager of Slama Huiles a Tunis-based olive oil producer:
Akram Tray is marketing and sales manager of Slama Huiles, a Tunis-based olive oil producer.
Producers Learn Marketing to Reach New Customers
"Sometimes firms need information more than they need capital.”

A large Tunisian country flag stretched over a row of display booths in a bustling Manhattan convention center recently as 11 Tunisian olive oil companies discussed their products with enthusiastic visitors to the New York Fancy Food Show. The event, held June 30-July 2, 2013, represented the most important opportunity for the olive producers to network with distributors and buyers in North America.

“Everyone was curious about Tunisian olive oil,” said Akram Tray, marketing manager of Slama Huiles. “Some distributors have never heard about Tunisian oil and don’t even know where Tunisia is. It was a chance to present both our country and our products.”

“Almost all Tunisian olive oil is organic,” explained Wajih Rekik of the C.H.O. Group, another producer exhibiting at the fair. “We offer consistency in quality and 100 percent traceability of the oil that we bring to consumers.”

Following the Tunisian revolution in January 2011, which set into motion the Middle East’s Arab Awakening, USAID began working with local partners on a broad range of economic development programs to address some of the underlying causes of the revolution: high unemployment, lack of opportunities, and barriers to economic growth. USAID-supported programs work with local entrepreneurs and invest in the small and medium enterprises that are the engines of sustainable job creation in Tunisia.

Since December 2012, USAID has provided technical assistance to Tunisian companies producing and marketing olive oil. The olive oil industry is particularly significant to Tunisia’s economy—it’s the fifth most important source of  foreign currency earnings (accounting for 45 percent of agricultural exports) and employs approximately 270,000 people. Traditionally, the olive oil has been sold in bulk to Italy and Spain for subsequent blending and reselling under non-Tunisian labels.

USAID helps Tunisian companies reinvent their businesses from bulk to gourmet products and boost their nascent production of bottled, branded merchandise. Because these product lines are quite new to many producers, USAID assistance is particularly beneficial in developing the necessary basic sales and marketing techniques essential for profit growth.

For Slama Huiles and others, USAID specialists brought with them deep expertise in the U.S. specialty food industry to help their Tunisian counterparts refine the fundamentals of branding, marketing and packaging as well as to improve overall understanding of the complexity of specialty food business for export.

“Without USAID, it would have taken me two years, maybe even three years, to master all of this,” said Tray. “We have a lot of work to do, and what we need most of all is to start with the correct foundation. Sometimes firms need information more than they need capital.”