build a factory
Chilean olive oil
When Chilean fruit and wine impresario Alfonso Swett decided to start Olisur in 2004, he and Tomás Eguiguren hit the road. “We travelled 1,500km over the course of a year looking for land,” says Eguiguren (below), who is now the general manager. As he sits in a pine-panelled meeting room at the company’s plant in San Jose de Marchigue, outside is what used to be sheep pasture. Today, the full-wall window behind him reveals tens of thousands of olive trees swaying in the afternoon breeze. “We thought this property had the right mix of soil, climate, water and sunlight to give our oil a special character.”
Olisur harvested its first crop in 2009 and is building a reputation for its scrumptious sustainable product. The firm employed the new technique of high-intensity planting, growing 1,750 trees per hectare to increase yields and reduce time from planting to first harvest. They also set about the venture with a resolute commitment to the local ecosystem. Workers planted about 3,000 native vines to mitigate converting pasture to monoculture and left islands of native woodland throughout the property to provide refuges for eagles and foxes.
Next the brand enlisted Guillermo Hevia Architects to design a stained-plywood factory to complement the surrounding landscape. The building’s structure relies on laminated pine beams. Inside, climate control is mostly geothermal, using the stable subsoil temperature for summer cooling and winter heating. Skylights minimise the need for electric lighting, helpfully reducing the bills for a company that spends a fifth of its operating budget on electricity.
The hard part, Eguiguren says, is building the brand when a lot of olive oil sold as extra virgin doesn’t meet the standard. Still, things can’t be going too badly: sales are growing in Brazil, the US, Canada – and Chile. “The first harvest was at the beginning of 2009,” says Eguiguren. “That was 200,000 litres, a tenth of what we do today.”
Top three tips
- Find patient investors
Since Olisur started in 2003, $50m (€38m) has been invested in land, a processing plant, and other start-up costs. With investors demanding 15 per cent annual returns, partners willing to accept deferred rewards were crucial.
- Pursue new markets
With Europe mostly blocked off by protectionist duties, Olisur has looked for sales in Japan and Brazil.
- Be natural
Find ethical, sustainable ways of farming and stick to them. It pays in the end.