- Producer : Minami family
- Brand : Toyo Olive
- Year : 1955
- Place : Teshima and Shōdoshima, Kagawa, Japon
- Grove : 25 Ha, 12 000 olive trees
- Varieties : Mission, Lucca, Manzanillo, Nevadillo Blanco, Sainte-Catherine, Retuccino, Frantoio, Arbequina, etc.
- Harvest time : from October to December, hand picking
- Press: own mill, the biggest Pieralisi in Japan : 1-3 tons
- Production : 10 000 L per year
- Other products: table olives, refined oils, cosmetics and a wide range of other by-product from local or imported olives and oils
- Specificities : Toyo is the biggest producer in Japan with 25% of the total production.
Toyo Olive, the only industrial olive oil producer in Japan
With 25% of Japan’s olive oil production, Toyo Olive has always been a pioneer in the field. And the company intends to continue that way! As a strategist, it takes advantage of olive tourism at Shōdoshima, diversifies its offer by proposing many products derived from the olive tree, and starts importing foreign oils sold under its brand in Japan. Visit of Toyo’s Shōdoshima factory with Takahiro Sasaki, PR manager.
In Olio Veritas – Thank you for opening the doors of the factory to us. When was Toyo Olive created?
Takahiro Sasaki – It is a family business linked to Greece. In the 1950s, the grandfather of our current manager, Shunji Minami, was the head of a shipping company – Toyo Shipping Co. – that was well introduced to the Greek jetset for business. It was at a reception at the famous shipowner Aristotle Onassis’, tasting a good Greek olive oil, that he had the idea of founding a subsidiary of his group dedicated to olive oil here in Japan: Toyo Olive was born. From the beginning in 1955, thanks to solid investments from the group, we were able to think big: several hectares of olive trees in Teshima, a factory at Shōdoshima with Japan’s first olive mill in 1963 and a good connection with local institutions. We are now 35 employees at Toyo Olive.
IOV – Toyo Olive is clearly at the technological forefront of Japanese olive oil production. Can you tell us more about your machines?
Takahiro Sasaki – Starting with a stone mill, the company quickly acquired a 300 kg/hour Alpha-Laval, which was then the largest mill in Japan. It has been of service for years, but last year we decided to buy a new ultra-modern Pieralisi mill. It’s certainly not very impressive for you from Europe, but in Japan it’s a big move! I personally accompanied our President Yasuko Minami to the Pieralisi headquarters in Italy last spring to choose the mill. All these machines allow us to constantly improve the yields but also the quality of our premium olive oils.
IOV – With this you will be able to produce even more! How big do you plan to go?
Takahiro Sasaki – In reality, olive production in Shōdoshima and the rest of Japan is limited. Due to the mountainous and volcanic terrain, arable land is scarce in the country – 13% of the territory only, 54% of which is dedicated to rice cultivation – and the climate makes the activity very un predictable. In 2018, for example, due to the heavy rain season in June and the three typhoons in September, we were only able to harvest 80 tonnes of olives, 20 tonnes less than in 2017. In addition, olive oil yields are low due to humidity, from an average of 10% to less than 6% for the Mission variety so popular here. Objectively, I think that our olive oil production capacity in Japan is capped at 10 tonnes per year.
IOV – Toyo is a dynamic industrial group. What are your growth prospects then?
Takahiro Sasaki – First of all, over the years, we have diversified our product offering. From Mission and Manzanillo varieties, we produce Japanese style table olives, i. e. pickled for two weeks but not marinated. The Japanese are very fond of this kind of olive.
Moreover, to meet a strong demand from Japanese tourists visiting the island of Shōdo, we have developed a range of cosmetics containing olive oil under our brand Tolea. We produce creams made of Toyo extra virgin olive oil in this factory. The rest is outsourced to Osaka for cost and space reasons.
In addition to these two flagship product ranges, we have a wide range of other olive-based by-products. Tapenade as in Europe, but also olive jam and sweets for example. Do you want to taste?
IOV – Sure! We are interested in knowing more about all these sweet olive derivatives.
Takahiro Sasaki – For sugar olives, we import pitted olives from Spain in their brine. These sugar olives are sold as candy, but also transformed into jam, coated with chocolate like a truffle, or cooked in provolone. The Japanese consider olives to be both sweet and salty.
IOV – You therefore import olives in addition to those you grow. What about olive oil?
Takahiro Sasaki – This is our second major development axis: the import of foreign oils. We believe that refined olive oils have good market potential in Japan, as daily cooking oil. Indeed, when cooking, the Japanese look for oils with neutral smell, colour and taste, so as not to alter the taste harmony of the other ingredients. We refine extra virgin olive oils from Spain or Australia to remove their colour, smell and flavour.
IOV – This is very surprising for us Mediterranean people! Is it clear to the consumer that he or she will not find the flavours and benefits of extra virgin oil in these refined oils?
Takahiro Sasaki – Yes, it is clearly indicated on the label. Consumers choose this product on their own. The price is lower than that of locally produced premium olive oils, 40 euros per litre versus 200 euros for the extra virgin oil from Shōdoshima. We hope that this refined oil will become soon part of the Japanese cooking habits.
IOV – You import extra virgin olive oils to refine them. But also to sell them under your own brand, right?
Takahiro Sasaki – That’s right. Refining is only part of the import. We also bottle extra virgin oils from other countries, which we sell as Toyo Olive oils but with a clear indication of the country of origin. We wish to capitalize on our good brand reputation resulting from the quality of our own extra virgin oil from Shōdoshima, to sell other products that we select. Consumers trust us and are happy to find different products at different prices.
IOV – Do you have any other complementary activities at Toyo Olive?
Takahiro Sasaki – It’s anecdotal but it’s worth mentioning: in a zero waste approach, we transform the pomace (the residue after extraction of the oil) into feed for the cows thanks to two small dedicated drying machines. We sell the 2 tons of powder produced each year in 20kg bags to the farmers of the famous « olive beef », very popular in the region! Other organic residues, especially branches from pruning, are reduced to compost that we use to fertilize our olive groves.
IOV – Arigato gozaimasu Takahiro Sasaki !
After the visit of one of the olive groves on the hillside, we go back to the shop to try all the fancy products. Takahiro Sasaki offers us a nice bottle of their premium oil from Shōdoshima. There is definitely something for everyone at Toyo Olive!
To know more about Toyo Olive :
- Their website
- Their Facebook page
- Their Instagram account
- An article from Ethiad airlines
- Their profile on Olio Nuovo Days
- Ranking Flos Olei 2019
Find out more about olive oil in Japan by reading our articles in English here! 🇬🇧