The farm is currently owned by two brothers, and has been in the family for three generations. The grove consists of 27 hectares of olive trees, which are mostly local varieties. It is located 10 minutes outside of Montpellier.
The agricultural policy of France is determined at the level of the European Union. This policy is known as CAP, or Common Agricultural Policy, as it is common to all member countries of the EU. CAP encourages quality, food safety, and rural development. As France is the largest agricultural producer of the EU, accounting for 20.3% of Europe’s total agricultural production, it is the country which benefits most from CAP funding. Grants are given to farmers independently based on their crop, output, and quality.
Olives represent only 0.1% of the agricultural production of Europe, so CAP and other European agencies do not tend to be of much help to olive producers. Therefore, French olive growers have formed AFIDOL, which is an association formed to aid the growers. The association helps farmers by lobbying for government funding, conducting commercial research, developing labels of quality, and by providing financial assistance to farmers during difficult times. The farm is one of AFIDOL’s 30,000 members.
The farm produces a variety of products:
• Olive Oils
• Gourmet Table Olives
• Tapenades and Purees
These products sell at premium prices, generally selling at prices 4 times higher than average
Olive production is more expensive in France than in other olive producing countries in the Mediterranean
• Why is this?
— Trees are planted farther apart
— Olives are harvested by hand rather than with the use of machinery
— Higher cost of living in France, therefore higher wages for labor
• It is healthier for the trees
• Olive trees in France live and produce much longer than those in countries with more intensive methods of production
• The olives are of higher quality
• Hand picking reduces damage to the olives
• It is part of the culture and the local savoir-faire
The farm’s customers tend to be somewhat wealthy, as the farm’s products are very expensive compared to most other olive products. Many of the customers are retired couples, families, and business people from Montpellier. The farm targets the tourists in order to continue to build its customer base.
The farm also sells its products to some of the most highly acclaimed restaurants in the area.
The farm chooses to operate locally on a small scale, but does export some if its products.
• 70% of the production is sold directly to customers from the store located on the farm
• 25% is sold in restaurants and other retail outlets
• 5% is exported. Most of this is sold in the US, Canada, Belgium, Sweden, and Japan
Methods of production differentiate French olives from those produced elsewhere, but how does this particular farm differentiate its products from those produced on other French farms?
• Organic Production
• New product development
The family has built their company’s reputation as one of exceptional quality and authenticity. Every oil is “Extra Virgin,” obtained from cold press extraction to guarantee that it is of the finest quality. Meticulous care is taken to ensure quality throughout each step of production.
The farm has obtained many labels of quality to help it to differentiate its products:
• Qualité Hérault
— Signifies that a product is produced in the department of Hérault and is of exceptional quality
• Qualité Sud de France
— Similar to the Qualité Hérault label, but specifically for products from the Languedoc Region.
• Agriculture Biologique
— A national label which guarantees that the product meets organic standards
• Bienvenue á la Ferme
— A program which helps promote the farm’s agritourism. The farm pays a small fee in exchange for the label, which lets customers know that the farm welcomes tourists. The farm also benefits from road signs and publicity in tourist guides.
In order to differentiate its products in the market, the farm is continually developing new, unique products. These consist of heirloom varieties, infused oils, cosmetic products, and special blends of oils. The products have helped to separate the farm from its competition, have made it more diversified, and have strengthened its relationships with its clients.
The farm has worked with university researchers to bring rare regional varieties, such as “Violette de Montpellier,” into commercial use. The oils produced from these heirloom olive varieties are called “Grand Crus,” meaning that the olives are all of local varieties, that no more than 300 trees are planted per hectare, and that no more than 4 liters of oil are harvested from each tree. These varieties are specific to the region and are unique in the market.
The farm takes pride in the region’s rich history of olive production, and strives to maintain tradition in its products and processes. Farigoule is a product that was developed to revive local tradition. Historically, olive producers in the region used herbs of the garrigue, which grow wild in the local landscape, to clean their millstones at the end of the season. The oil made from this last press was infused with the flavors of rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf. The farm has revived this ancient tradition by creating its Farigoule oil in the same manner. This oil is unique to the farm, and has become one of its most popular products.
The farm has also developed other varieties of infused oil, such as mint, lemon, and saffron. These oils are ideal for cooking with, and are not available from other producers in the area.
The farm is the first in the area to become organic, which will not only help to further differentiate its products, but could help to attract new clients as well. Organic olive production is very challenging, and is much more labor intensive than conventional production. One of the farm’s major difficulties is the olive tree fly, which lays its eggs inside of the olives, making them unsuitable for consumption. The fly can be easily controlled with the use of pesticides, but there is currently no easy solution for organic olive farmers. The farm works to maintain the high quality of its olives through numerous inspections. While it is more costly to produce olives organically, the farm believes that the current growth in consumer demand for organic products will enable it to attract new customers and to increase its presence in the market.
While organic production is likely to attract new customers, the farm also benefits from the additional financial assistance available to organic growers. The farm receives grants from the EU, national, regional, and departmental levels to offset the additional costs of organic production.
“When people come and visit the farm, they feel a connection with the product. This increases customer loyalty.” -Local wine producer
Research suggests that educating consumers about the product and the farm could help build long-term relationships across generations of consumers.
The farm holds two festivals: one in the spring to celebrate the flowering of the olive trees, and the other in the winter to celebrate the pressing of the oil. The festivals feature local cuisine, demonstrations by local chefs, activities for children, and demonstrations of traditional olive oil pressing in the old mill. The festivals are intended not only to attract new customers, but also to thank the farm’s many loyal customers for their business.
This is a new activity, which began in summer 2010
Throughout July and August, picnic lunches are available for guests to purchase
The farm offers a new menu each week featuring local, terroir products
Picnic tables are located in the grove so that customers can enjoy their meals under the trees
The farm’s differentiation strategies have proved successful so far. By positioning its products as superior in quality, the farm has been able to charge premium prices and compete with less expensive imports. Organic production adds to its image of quality and could help to increase the farm’s customer base. By constantly developing new products, the farm further differentiates itself from other local producers and creates new markets for its products. Finally, agri-tourism helps to build loyalty among the farm’s customers and helps attract new clients. It remains to be seen whether these strategies will continue to be successful or if they will be imitated by other producers. While the strategies themselves are valuable, it is the farm’s ability to adjust to the changing demands of its customers that is its most valuable asset. By understanding its customers’ needs, the farm can continue to remain competitive in the ever-changing market.
Slide 2: Vialla, Pierre. Personal Interview. July 2010.
Slide 3: L’Aot, Delphine.(2010,May). The Common Agriculture Policy. Lecture presented at SupAgro University, Montpellier France.
Slide 4: Vialla, Pierre. Personal Interview. July 2010.
Slides 6 & 7: Combe, Aurelia. Personal Interview. June 2010.
Slide 9: Vialla, Pierre. Personal Interview. July 2010.
Slide 11: Official Website, Le Domaine de l’Oulivie, www.olivie.eu.
Slide 12: Cellier, Eric. Personal Interview. July 2010.
Slide 13: Alonso, Abel Duarte. 2010. Olives, hospitality and tourism: a Western Australian perspective . British Food Journal. Vol. 112 No. 1, 2010.pp. 55-68.
Slides 16 & 17: Combe, Aurelia. Personal Interview. July 2010.
Slides 18 & 19: Vialla, Pierre. Personal Interview. July 2010.
Slide 20: Cavalier, Jean-Benoit. Personal Interview. May 2010.
Slide 22: Alonso, Abel Duarte. 2010. Olives, hospitality and tourism: a Western Australian perspective . British Food Journal. Vol. 112 No. 1, 2010.pp. 55-68.