When one thinks of bottled olive oil, Italy probably comes to mind. Since 2013, Brahim Slama, General Manager of Med Flavour Inc., has been working to change this perception by importing olive oil from his homeland of Tunisia to Canada. Slama’s family in Tunisia has been in the olive oil business since 1930. It is a third-generation olive oil business. Interestingly, in 2015 Tunisia is second in the world in olive oil production, after Spain and just ahead of Italy.
Slama moved to Toronto in 2013 and studied the olive oil market in Canada. He held meetings with supermarket reps, tracked prices and gathered samples to take home to Tunisia for lab testing. He discovered that a smooth-tasting olive oil appealed more to Canadian palates than the sharper- tasting olive oil used in Tunisia. Armed with his research, passion, and attention to detail, the next step was to work on the branding. Slama explained:
“First we developed a single brand Oleiva, and from there we identified two separate products: Oleiva Traditional, which was tailor-made for the Canadian market, and Oleiva Premium for the niche market, which is closer to the classic Tunisian olive oil. We worked on the bottles and the labels. Oleiva Traditional has a dark square bottle and label with gold rim. Oleiva Premium’s bottle is reminiscent of a wine bottle. I wanted a classy bottle for gourmet shops and speciality stores. Once we had the bottles and the labels designed, we conducted quality control on the oils in Tunisia.”
The Oleiva Traditional brand is produced with carefully handpicked olives, which are cold pressed resulting in a rich taste. The Traditional brand, geared specifically toward Canadian tastes, is the one carried in supermarkets. The Oleiva “Premium” brand is geared towards the connoisseur, and is sold in boutique stores such as Cheese
Boutique, Pusateri’s and Fiesta Farms. Slama said, “In Tunisia we grew up with olive oil, and we use it daily for cooking, eating and medicinal purposes. And we like the bitter taste. Households in Tunisia usually have a large olive oil dispenser in the kitchen. It was actually puzzling for my mom when she saw small bottles on grocery shelves when she came to visit Canada!”
To create brand awareness, Slama entered Med Flavour’s Oleiva Traditional olive oil in a SIAL food trade show
competition, which included 110 olive oils from 14 different countries. The company’s olive oil won the silver “Olive d’Or 2014, Goutte d’Argent” award. This confirmed to Slama that Med Flavour had succeeded in producing a flavourable olive oil for Canadian tastes. Next, Slama met with a food distribution company, I-D Foods Corporation, and signed a three-year distribution deal to distribute products in Ontario and Quebec, and then throughout Canada.
Slama discussed the next step of securing shelf space in supermarkets: “Some retailers will allow its vendors to test
their products to evaluate their consumer appeal before suppliers must invest in listing fees, which can be tens of thousands of dollars per SKU. Sobeys was sceptical about another olive oil, however, the rep liked our story, that it was a family business, and was impressed with our marketing campaign. The test was to have his mother try it first and approve the product. A few days later, he said he liked the pricing and his mother loved the olive oil. She said it was an amazing product.”
Slama explained that one of the most effective marketing methods was to offer samples in stores, which increased
Elliot Richmond, Audit & Assurance Partner with Fuller Landau, says the growth outlook is bright for his client
Med Flavour Inc. The company has started selling on vitarock.com (an online Canadian store for natural health,
beauty and household products),and is planning to expand out west, and then into the US. The product will also be
sold at Highland Farms and Longos. Slama’s plan is to continue expanding its customer base and to diversify
into other Mediterranean products including tuna, dates and antipastos.