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Brazilian olive oil: recognized quality and expanding market reach

Brazilian olive oil producers have the opportunity to benefit from the international rise in food prices and expand their market share, particularly in Brazil, the world’s second-largest importer of olive oil.

Of all the olive oil consumed in the country, less than 1 percent (0.24%) is produced by its own crops. Greater participation in the domestic market could stem from the product’s quality, enabling consumption growth even amidst price increases.

Between 2018 and 2022, olive oil production in the state of Rio Grande do Sul alone surged from 58,000 to 448,500 liters. This state, along with other regions such as the Serra da Mantiqueira spanning the states of Minas Gerais, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro, are focusing on the production of extra virgin olive oil. This oil, with lower acidity, is widely recognized as a specialty or premium product.

According to the International Olive Council, imports grew from 73,000 tons per year to 104,000 tons per year between 2013 and 2020.

In 2020, 80 percent of the imported volume in Brazil originated from Portugal and Spain. These two Iberian Peninsula nations have seen a decline in olive oil production in recent years due to rising temperatures during olive tree blooming seasons, resulting in a roughly 45 percent increase in the product’s price since 2020.

As olive oil prices climb, domestic production is gaining acclaim. Just last month, an olive oil produced in Rio Grande do Sul—Potenza Frutado—was honored as the best in the Southern Hemisphere at the Expoliva International Quality Award for the Best Extra Virgin Olive Oils (22nd edition), held in Spain.

Brasil se especializa na produção de azeite de oliva extra virgem. Foto: Rosalerosa/Freepik

Brasil is focusing on the production of extra virgin olive oil – Rosalerosa/Freepik

Faster supply

In addition to producing high-quality extra virgin olive oil, national producers benefit from the ability to swiftly supply the domestic market. “If I harvest olives today, I can easily have the oil from these olives on the shelves of a Pão de Açúcar supermarket in São Paulo within ten days,” calculates Luiz Eduardo Batalha, Brazil’s largest olive oil producer and owner of his eponymous brand.

Batalha, who has extensive experience in meat, coffee, and sugarcane production across various regions of Brazil, cultivates olive trees on three farms spanning 3,000 hectares in the municipalities of Pinheiro Machado and Candiota, located in the southeast of Rio Grande do Sul, approximately 60 kilometers from the Uruguayan border.

According to him, extra virgin olive oil “is a product that requires utmost freshness,” and despite the absolute dominance of foreign brands, they “cannot match the speed with which we deliver olive oil to supermarket shelves and restaurants.”

The producer’s argument resonates with Ticiana Werner, the owner of a namesake restaurant in Brasília. She reflects that apart from the longer transit time to Brazilian supply chains, imported olive oil may not be adequately packaged during transportation.

“How does olive oil from Europe arrive? In a container. What’s the condition of the container? Is it refrigerated? If not, the oil can oxidize,” explains the businesswoman, who has been exclusively using Brazilian olive oil in salads, hot dishes, and even desserts since the beginning of the year.

Brazil has been cultivating olive trees since the last century, but the vision of a more substantial and sustainable production started to take shape between 2005 and 2006. During this period, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock tasked the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) with assessing the feasibility of olive tree cultivation in the country, similar to the existing vineyards in southern Brazil and the São Francisco Valley in the states of Bahia and Pernambuco.

The initiative commenced with the cultivation of traditional olive tree seedlings sourced from countries renowned for high production. The most successful varieties included the Greek Koroneike, Spanish Arbequina and Arbosana, and the Italian Covatina.

Brasil se especializa na produção de azeite de oliva extra virgem. - Azeite, azeitona, oliveiras - Foto: EMBRAPA/LANZETTA, Paulo

In Brazil, the most successful varieties included the Greek Koroneike, Spanish Arbequina and Arbosana, and the Italian Covatina – EMBRAPA/LANZETTA, Paulo

Change in metabolism

“When you introduce a species from a favorable environment to a different one like ours, the plant undergoes metabolic changes and adapts accordingly,” elucidates agronomist Rogério Oliveira Jorge. He oversees the laboratory at Embrapa Clima Temperado in Pelotas, Rio Grande do Sul, responsible for conducting research and evaluating the quality of olive oils produced in Brazil.

The plant’s productivity hinges on its capacity to adjust to the local climate and soil conditions. Scientific understanding confirms that olive trees struggle to thrive in regions with excessive rainfall and waterlogged soils.

Aside from minimal rainfall and low relative humidity, the plant requires ample sunlight exposure and moderate temperatures. According to an Embrapa study conducted in 2015 on the potential distribution of olive trees in Brazil and globally, during periods of full flowering, pollination, and effective fruiting, “daily temperatures should hover around 20ºC to facilitate normal metabolic processes.”

Researchers from the state-owned company affirm that besides Rio Grande do Sul and high-altitude areas like the Serra da Mantiqueira, there are “more favorable” regions in the semi-arid northeastern part of the country.

Olive oil is abundant in fatty acids, aiding in blood sugar regulation and bolstering the immune system. In an interview with Agência Brasil, nutritionist Mônica Julien, from the Federal District’s Health Department, advocated for its consumption. “I recommend incorporating olive oil into your diet whenever possible. It shouldn’t replace all other fats, as even saturated fats serve a purpose in the body. However, substituting a significant portion of fats with olive oil can greatly benefit your health.”


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