How this couple was sold on taste of fresh olive oil

Published: Monday, May 12, 2008
Name: Basil and Helen Koutalianos
Business: Basil Olive Oil Products Ltd., Pitt Meadows
Contact: 604-460-0087; www.basiloliveoil.com
Number of employees: Five (my husband, three daughters and me)
Time in business: 10 years

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What is your business?
We bring olive oil to B.C. from our family farm in Greece and produce and distribute a series of certified organic products to gourmet markets and restaurants. We have extra virgin olive oil, sold under the name Golden Olive Eleni, olives, tapenades as well as several other products we import from Greece. We also make our own certified organic, handmade olive oil soap and moisturizer.

How did you get started?
My husband's family has had a farm in the Peleponnese for four generations. The estate has 1,000 olive trees and my husband is the last son. There's not a lot of interest in farming there any more -- it's becoming very difficult to make a living at it. We wanted our daughters to have an interest in taking care of these trees, so when we retired we decided to bring the olive oil here from Greece and distribute it in Canada.

How do you manage a farm in Greece from Pitt Meadows?
My husband goes to the farm every year to supervise the harvest. We pick the olives early, usually in early November, when they are at their finest and just turning from green to almost purplish. They have to be picked and pressed within 24 hours to get the best quality.

What is the biggest challenge?
It's a lot of work -- we had no idea how difficult it would be -- but the biggest challenge is educating people about the quality of olive oil. Few people here have ever tasted fresh olive oil, but once they do, they never go back.

What do you like best about owning your own business?
The freedom and flexibility of having our own business. We have met some interesting people in this business -- there are a lot of nice people out there.

Hardest learned lesson?
We knew our oil was something special, but we didn't know how hard we would have to work to introduce our products to the Canadian market. We were naive and thought everyone would want to buy 30 litres at a time. It was a quick learning curve -- North Americans do not buy like Europeans, and our competition sells inferior goods at cheaper prices.

Future plans? Making more products available to more customers. We concentrated on the west at first, but now were are slowly moving east.

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