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In Pursuit of French Dessert… and an Understanding of French Agriculture


Today, I was able to discuss the consumer trends of olive oil with everyone on the farm, and learn more about the clientele base of the farm.

Olive oil is experiencing a dramatic surge in popularity.  The farm has noticed that customers are now especially concerned about the health of the environment, and their own personal health. Olive oil has a good image, thanks to the heavily scrutinized Mediterranean diet, and is rich in polyphenols, Vitamin E, and monounsaturated fatty acids. I am indulging myself in the olive oil, as after all, I am somewhat near the prime location of deviation for Ancel Key’s Seven Countries study findings. The study found that serum cholesterol levels were strongly associated with coronary heart disease everywhere, but particularly, not in Southern Europe. Could this be the “healthful” fats of olive oil at work?

The farm hopes that by going organic, they will further project their image of being healthy for both the body and the environment.Violette de Montpellier olive

A paper by T. Michels (2006) identified six consumer profiles for olive oil, which I thought was very noteworthy. The paper describes the “the foodie, the aspirational foodie, the recipe reader, time poor foodie, time poor aspirationals and the uninterested.” Michels also points out that consumers do not really know about olive oil, or various ways to use it. I somewhat agree with this even though in the US, Rachel Ray and others are always proclaiming their love for Extra Virgin olive oil to the public masses.  Here, even though this is the south of France, and not the larger Spanish or Italian olive oil production areas, it is difficult to find a product which does not use olive oil.

A Tasting

In addition to consumer trends, it was interesting to learn the break-down of the sales on the farm; an incredible 70% is sold directly from the on-site shop. The shop is only 10 minutes away from Montpellier, a very large city, and attracts wealthy clientele since the product is of a very high quality and is labor intensive. Besides location, I think the store has such a good turnover because the whole experience is very personalized. As soon as a customer comes through the door, they are greeted with a “Bonjour!” and if desired, are educated about the various products of the farm, which includes a tasting. I have taken part of this process many times as both the taster and the informer, although I do have to admit, usually I am the taster.

Exportation is a new feature for the Domain, and results in 5% of sales. Apparently, it is harder to export to Asian markets since olive oil is not as widely used in their cuisine, but northern Europe and North America are turning out to be important customers. For example, we just prepared a large order to send out to Canada.

 The remaining 25% of sales results from restaurants and local boutiques that carry the Domain’s products. I have mentioned such boutiques when I discussed the “Maison de Producteurs” organization in the last post.Chef Eric Cellier

Along the lines of selling to restaurants, this week was definitely one of the highlights of my entire internship. I had a chance to visit Maison De La Lozere, a restaurant that the Domain de l’Oulivie almost exclusively supplies ( I was able to eat, see the kitchen, and interview the chef, Eric Cellier. This is definitely my favorite kind of learning experience!Maison De La Lozere

 A paper by Abel Duarte Alonso dealing with olives and tourism describes how when restaurants carry local olive products, it increases the interest of customers, and acts as an incentive to attract customers to the olive farm or to buy the farm’s products.  From my visit to the Maison De La Lozere, I understand how this can be true. The restaurant displays the various oils they use from the Domain in a gorgeous glass case for customers to see when they first enter the restaurant. Also, the chef has worked extensively with my boss at the farm to blend his own special oil using two varieties, and a special black bottle which was designed exclusively for the use of the restaurant. After select customers dine, the chef offers them little vials of the olive oil to take home as well. The oil is used in the classic style with vegetables, meat, and fish, but is also used to make marshmallows, and ice cream.special bottle design

Currently, Mr. Cellier is working on a project to blend chocolate, oil, and basil. Every dish I had was divine, and it was fantastic for me to see what a great market and promotional outlet the restaurant is for the farm. It also reinforced the fact that the quality of the product is crucial for its marketing niche. Olive oil may be made cheaply in Spain, and it may take a lot of work to produce the final product, as I have experienced, but in the end, when the plate arrives in front of you, it is definitely worth the price and extra effort…









  1. Aunt Kimi, Megs and Molo says:

    We just got a chance to view your blogs. It looks like you are having an amazing and very busy time. Take care and see you soon. Love,
    UncleCurt,Aunt Kimi, Megs and Mol

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