Interview with Esteban Momblán,  CEO of InterÓleo

This year, the market is going through a very particular situation in terms of production and prices. How is Interóleo experiencing everything that is happening?

Like the whole sector, we are going through some very turbulent years. First there was the COVID crisis, then the conflict in Ukraine, then the generalised inflation and the increase in the cost of inputs in the primary sector and finally the constant drought that has been going on for the last two years.

All this forces companies to be in a permanent process of adaptation to these situations, which makes our business difficult. But, without a doubt, if there is one thing that characterises the primary sector, it is its resilience and its capacity to adapt to new environments that come as a surprise.

At Interóleo we have been making the right decisions to continue growing and providing value to our partners, even in environments such as the current ones. By being efficient in structural costs, but not without initiating new activities to generate value for our partners and our customers. This is always our main objective: we work for our partners and for our customers, adapting to the needs of both as a prerequisite for further growth. 

Do you believe that everything that is happening can accelerate the revolution that seems to be taking place in the producing and processing sector?

Of course it can. Only in convulsive and changing environments do great revolutions take place. This has always been the case in human history.

The efficient use of resources in olive growing, the development of new varieties of olive trees that are more resistant to climate change and a much more sustainable and responsible agriculture with our surroundings (social and environmental) will be the great revolutions in agronomy. Also, the adaptation to a new type of consumer and new ways of consuming olive oil will be the great changes, from the point of view of marketing, of our product. One of the great challenges is to increase the use of olive oil in the food industry and, to this end,

it is necessary to increase investment in research to be able to replace other vegetable fats with olive oil in this industry.

Undoubtedly, all the events of the last three years are accelerating all these changes and we now need to tackle them decisively. Fortunately, we have a product whose consumption is growing year after year, but we cannot die of success. We must address the necessary changes in order to be prepared for the changes that are taking place and those that may come.

The transformation of olive cultivation models is unstoppable. How do you think the traditional system will coexist with the new ones in the future?

It is a reality that, during each olive growing season, intensive and super-intensive olive groves account for a greater percentage of world production. It is a much more cost-efficient olive growing system than the traditional one, as it starts harvesting earlier than the traditional one, thus obtaining a higher percentage of extra virgin olive oil. As a result, the revenue stream also exceeds that of traditional production.

One of the major handicaps of the traditional olive grove is that it is usually located in areas with an orography that makes its transformation difficult, harvesting mechanisation is not easy and water resources are deficient. All this makes it less competitive and less cost-efficient, as well as generating large fluctuations in production.

There is no doubt that the traditional olive grove will coexist with the new olive growing, as its sustainable and less resource-intensive nature makes it necessary for it to survive. The challenge for the traditional olive grove is to develop better management of its peculiarities in order to be able to compete with the new types of farms. For this reason, integrated management of traditional holdings is necessary, and a joint management model that generates economies of scale in both harvesting and olive oil production processes and subsequent marketing will continue to make these types of holdings viable and enable them to compete with the new ones.

Both models are compatible and not mutually exclusive. The objective of all must be to increase world consumption of olive oil and to increase the current 1.5-2% worldwide of all vegetable fats to higher percentages.

The traditional olive grove is a powerful population fixer in rural areas, as well as a natural sink for greenhouse gases. Both characteristics must be promoted and known by consumers, as they are increasingly aware of the need to consume products that have a positive impact on society and the environment.

The world of marketing is also changing, what is Interóleo doing in this respect and what are its main markets?

The changing situation of markets and consumers is also causing Interóleo to have to adapt to them. We are always doing this with a clear market orientation and with the aim of satisfying the needs of our customers. We are looking for long-term and stable commercial relationships, which is why we consider it essential to have a constant relationship with them in order to be aware of their needs at all times in terms of quality, sensory profiles, quantities, finance, etc.

It is often difficult to achieve this type of commercial relationship in such a volatile market, but we are working in this direction. Likewise, the training and preparation of our team is very important in order to be qualified for new markets. It is clear to us that exporting is fundamental to continue growing in sales, turnover and new customers. The national market is very mature and it is difficult to absorb new growth. For this reason, we are focusing on new markets with high potential, such as North America and South East Asia, where we are making new efforts. This requires a higher degree of qualification of the human team and, therefore, we understand their training as necessary. In 2022 we began active marketing in both the USA and Ecuador with a high degree of satisfaction. From groups such as Interóleo, this type of new commercial strategies are easier to tackle than individually by a cooperative or industrial oil mill. Undoubtedly, size and professionalism are the levers for reaching new markets and generating greater value for our members.

The second lever on which we are redoubling our efforts is research. Interóleo is a patron and holds the presidency of Citoliva (Centro tecnológico del olivar y aceite de oliva), through which we participate in relevant projects aimed at gaining greater knowledge of our product, as well as to be at the forefront of the latest developments in our product. In this way, we can then pass it on to our customers and to new markets.

The third lever is the establishment of a corporate social responsibility policy that involves all areas of Interóleo, from its relationship with its partners, its workers and its customers. The aim is to create a new business model where the objective is to generate a positive impact on all our relationships and on society in general. We place great emphasis on promoting sustainability and circular economy, which is why we participate in projects such as Olivares Vivos or in the implementation of the quality standard. We are very self-demanding and work closely with customers on comprehensive sustainability programmes.

What can your participation in an international project such as the World Olive Oil Congress bring to Interóleo?

We are very proud to be able to participate in this project. We believe that olive oil and olive groves should have a more international perspective. And that is why we have been committed to the OOWC from the very first minute the project was presented to us. Generating awareness of olive oil from an international perspective is essential to increase world consumption. What is not known is not valued and, consequently, is not consumed. Having a vision of olive oil from different spheres such as social, economic, scientific, gastronomic, agronomic, environmental and health, will help to improve knowledge of what olive oil means in all corners of the world, not only in the producing countries.