Each Monday we meet a small producer entrepreneur who is making particularly special products; this week we speak to Gordon Davidson, co-founder of Morocco Gold, a high end olive oil that promises to invigorate the premium olive oil market.
Why did you start this business?
I’ve got a background business consulting for about 30 years and that includes working with the food and drink industry improving performance and efficiency etc. My colleague [Bob Watson] has worked in the food and drink industry on the production side for about 40 years and he’s a recognised industry expert. That’s where the skills set comes from for doing this.
Myself and my wife went to Morocco 10 years ago, did a renovation project, and since then we’ve spent time going to all parts of Morocco and seeing what is there in addition to the normal touristy parts that people know and understand. We actually came across some of the very large-scale agriculture that is there in Morocco and we also came across some of the lesser known parts where they have been producing high quality olive oil for literally hundreds of years. They have been doing this forever.
The olive oil industry services, by and large, the local market inside Morocco. What the government is doing is putting a lot of time and effort into increasing capacity of both olive production and olive oil production. It’s a strategic initiative for them. We’ve worked with the Moroccan suppliers to make an excellent product fit for the UK and European markets. We have all the quality control and traceability that the EU markets look for. That’s an entirely new ball game for Moroccan suppliers.
The European producers have been affected by blight and they still have this taint of adulteration and fraud. What we’re doing is setting a new benchmark for authenticity and provenance, and a new benchmark for traceability and quality assurance all the way through the supply chain. We’re bringing a wonderful tasting product to the UK. We’re getting really good feedback from all the people we’re talking to about this, both from a taste point of view and from the presentation, design and packaging of this. They’re saying ‘wow, that’s a luxury item’. We’re opening up an entirely new country as a source for the UK market.
At £18.95 it is definitely a premium product so how are you envisioning your route to market?
We’re doing the rounds of the major high end stores such as Harvey Nicks, Harrods, Fortnum & Masons and those sort of people, but in particular we are also aiming at the specialist delicatessens and I have to say we’re getting a good reception so far. I’ve had initial discussions with people in London and there is a real interest in this. What has captured people’s attention is Brexit. With all the uncertainty with Brexit and recent price increases from EU suppliers, we’re presenting them with an entirely new source and we’re saying that we can hold our prices. That’s an additional level of interest that was totally unplanned but we can present that to people.
What’s your capacity of production? Would you be able to scale up if a multiple wanted to give you a listing?
One of the things we’ve done – and it took us about three years to find the appropriate supply source for this – because it is a highly scalable business proposition. Over the years we’re planning to eventually be importing 250 tonnes of this so it is a highly scalable operation. It’s different from enthusiasts who may have gone over to Greece and bought a few acres of olive groves and they can only produce whatever they can a year. It’s a different ball park from that.
Tell me more about some of the initiatives that you’re doing with women in agriculture in Morocco.
Again, this links in with the Moroccan government strategy. They’re putting a lot of effort into the employment of women within agriculture generally and olive growing and olive oil is a particular sector they’ve focused on. They’ve recognised that the more women they can employ in cooperatives and within agriculture, the more of the Moroccan household income goes to the woman and they believe that women are better able to manage the budgets than the men. I couldn’t possibly comment on that!
Haha, not in our household; I’m the spendthrift! Interestingly enough, I used to edit the African Business Journal and discovered that a lot of micro-loan schemes centred on women because there was hard evidence that loans made to women were more likely to be paid back than those to men.
That’s why they’re putting so much emphasis on employing women in the sector. The other aspect of our company is that we’re among a small handful of businesses that are set up as joint ownership between UK-based owners and Moroccan owners so that the benefits don’t just come to the UK and the high end of the value chain but is shared with Moroccans as well.
It’s not a proposition for the supermarkets yet and we’re looking to get high end delis and food enthusiasts to get behind this first. Once we’re established as a distinct and recognisable brand, we’d be looking to scale up.
Any plans to offer in different size?
At the minute it is only in 500ml bottles but, from the next harvest, we’re introducing a 250ml bottle and we’d also like to make it directly available via our website later in the year. We’ll do that with the groundswell of it having been listed in high end stores. So, at this stage, one of our partners Linda is working on our social media, getting our brand out there.
Was the decision to put ‘single estate’ on your marketing a conscious effort to point out how special the oil is?
It’s very conscious. It’s back to some of the recent history from other countries and some oils have been exported from morocco to Spain and mixed in with goodness knows what and that is then marketed as Spanish extra virgin olive oil and some of it clearly isn’t. We wanted to say that it is fully traceable and is a benchmark for quality.
It tastes pretty wonderful and the other aspect of olive oil, which we’re not pushing hard at this stage, are the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil. This particular olive that we source is called the Picholine and it is very high in polyphenols.
Can you cook with extra virgin olive oil? I’ve heard it is fine to roast at low temperatures with it.
When you do heat it above a certain temperature it promotes the oxidation of the oil and you lose some of the health-enhancing qualities. The natural low temperature state is when you get the best health-enhancing qualities.
So I’ll continue dipping my zaatar bread in it. Thank you! Visit the Morocco Gold our oil page for more information on the oil.