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Stratis Kamatsos

At a difficult time for Greece, when  specialised personnel were searching for work abroad, Stratis Kamatsos, who had worked for several years abroad as a lawyer, not only returned to Greece but also insisted on remaining here to produce olive oil. His business venture in Mytilini has created an olive oil with ‘social character’. Read the interview he gave ‘Bridges’!

Young entrepreneur

Owner of a family olive oil business

He returned from abroad to develop the family business in Mytilini

Can you briefly explain the main business activities of Evo3?

We are third generation olive oil producers and develop other innovative products. But, everything is linked to an original environmental and social idea.

For each bottle of olive oil which is bought, a tree is planted in Africa. How did this idea come about?

We thought about how we could connect olive oil production with what I’m describing. We asked: ‘ Where does olive oil come from?’ ‘From trees’. So could we perhaps do something connected to tree planting? After doing some research we realised that we could.

Initially, I tried to do this in Greece. I searched for an NGO to work with on this project. Some said, ‘We can’t work with you because you aren’t a very big business.’ After further research, I approached other NGOs and they said that the cost of planting trees is 6-7 euro per tree. A prohibitive cost to be able to do through the oil produced. I would have to sell each bottle of oil for 15 euros to the distributor. Very expensive for wholesale. No-one would buy it.

So, I decided to do it in Africa. I found an NGO there. I presented my idea to them via Skype. They were enthusiastic and immediately wanted to co-operate. The deal was that for each product sold, a tree would be planted there. And I must tell you that besides the environmental benefit, there is a benefit for the local community. In order to carry out the whole procedure, the NGO has hired local people to do the tree planting.

You have lived and worked abroad and in a completely different sector. What made you return and insist on staying in Greece?

After my professional career in law abroad, I decided to return to Greece with my wife and daughter and to get involved in the family tradition-olive oil production. It was something that had interested me since I was young but I hadn’t found the appropriate time to return and do it. So, I began to make my dream a reality and share our family’s love of olive oil with others. A love which started with my grandfather, who during the 2nd World War, loaded his oil onto a small boat in the middle of the night, crossed the Aegean evading the Germans and risking his life. In my case, through my business, I’m offering something to help the environment and humanity. Our precious olive oil and its history keeps me here, honouring all the difficulties its production has encountered.

What did your friends say when you told them you were returning to Greece during the crisis?

My friends and acquaintances said I was crazy. But I thought it was the best time to return and chase my passion. Where others saw superficiality, I saw an opportunity – to combine the family tradition and social contribution.

 

During the crisis in Greece, most see difficulties in doing business. What are the most important characteristics someone in business needs to have to succeed at this time?

Personally, the greatest difficulty was not choosing to start a business which was in a different sector to my profession I had studied, but overcoming the fear of entering the unknown generally, especially at a time like this. People tend to believe that they should start something of their own only when they are fully and completely knowledgeable about the field they are going to enter. This will never happen. When I finally made my decision to enter the unknown, the void, I had no other choice but to learn how to swim, and that’s what I did. That requires self-confidence and the guts to make an absolute decision and dive into the deep end.

In your opinion, can Greek products lead to the success of an entrepreneur?

I really believe that agricultural entrepreneurship is a powerful force in Greece. Traditional Greek products are so genuine and tasty. It’s a shame not to exploit and export them. However, we are late in exploiting them and have delayed entering the game so, if we want Greek products to be successful, we need to bring something innovative to the market, such as I am doing with tree planting and social responsibility. There is great competition so you need to make your product different to others but not simply using a different packaging. The complete image and ethos of your company needs to be attractive to consumers so that they prefer your products to others. Only then, and with a little luck, will they lead to success.

Could Greek products play an important role in foreign markets?

Yes and no. Yes, because as a product, Greek olive oil is one of the best in quality and can hold its own against the strong competition that exists. No, because as a country we lag behind in the export race in this area. Where I see there is a hope for Greek olive oil is in the domination of quality and organic production rather than  bulk exporting, because the Spanish and Italians have been, for many years now, the pioneers in the bulk olive oil market. Unfortunately, however, the product alone cannot conquer foreign markets – it requires its producer to learn and research their olive oil so as to make it the best quality possible.

Have you developed a network of partners which includes Greeks abroad? What benefits do you see arising from connections between Greeks living and working abroad with Greece?

I have a network of partners abroad, more in the realm of distribution. Naturally, I’m starting a network of producer partners in Greece who do not have access abroad. What helps with this, is that we have something in common the promotion of Greek products. But it isn’t easy to find partners because most work exclusively with big companies and they don’t want to work with small producers. But yes, I believe that networking with Greeks abroad can help  because they know your product and they can promote it. That’s not to say you should target only Greeks because you have to co-operate with the locals in any market you enter.

What are your future plans?

We are focusing on the American market. We are planning to expand our partnerships. At the centre of this will be olive oil. We have launched all our products and intend to promote other Greek products. We have already started to promote olive jam. We have already developed our new product, smoked olives, for which we have received the ‘Great Taste’ award in England. We’re going to export unprocessed salt, which will be produced in Mytilini. In addition, we’re launching an oil dressing for salads. We’re also considering making marinades. All of this is based on Greek olive oil. Similarly, we have begun a partnership with the biggest cancer research centre in the USA. As part of this partnership, for every bottle of oil sold, we donate 25 cents to the research they are doing into cancer.