However, two questions arise.
First, to what extent does Greece produce enough food to feed the population? Secondly, which Greek products are considered as Greek?
Not enough food -at least until now.
In terms of economy, the basis of Greece was agriculture until the pre-war period, although it was geared towards self-sufficiency rather than profit.
Greeks lived on small producing farms but had poor days because of wars, plant diseases, climatic variability and improper agricultural practises. Land unsuitable for cultivation was a major problem too. For example, Greece was never able to produce enough grain to support the population, so it imported it from other areas like the grain-rich Black Sea region.
On the other hand, in the late 19th century, the newly constituted Greek state faced huge economic crises related to the prevalent model of monoculture farming, overproduction and monoexport (e.g. raisins crisis of 1893 was due to the sudden fall in the international demand.)
Low levels of productivity due, mainly, to the very small size of farm holdings, under –investment in improvements, lack of programming, lack of farmers’ training and education, lack of cooperative consciousness (Greece adopted a system of farming cooperatives as early as 1915 though) and shrinkage of agricultural sector have been for years on of Greek agriculture’s standing characteristics. Moreover, “both the ‘farmer-friendly’ policies (by Greece and EU) and the state corporatism that predominated in the farming sector were chiefly income-oriented in character, placing emphasis on subsidizing the volume of production, and not enhancing the necessary structural adjustments.”
So, it is not surprising that Greece is traditionally an importer of agricultural goods rather than an exporter.
However, the agricultural sector itself is very important to the country’s economy because many Greek products are known for their very high quality, although until recently, Greece has never really promoted them as such.
Which Greek products are considered as Greek?
“Buy Greek poducts”: Lately the phrase is in common use, but it is not always clear where products are manufactured, where raw materials come from or who pockets the profits.
Alfa Beta Vassilopoulos, the 2nd largest supermarket chain in Greece, which is owned by the Belgian Delhaize group, promotes a vast range of traditional Greek products, employs 11.000 people and pay taxes to the Greek state. Since 1991, Misko, the largest pasta brand in Greece, is owned by Barilla group. But Barilla uses Greek raw materials for Misko products and built the 3rd largest European pasta factory in Viotia. The Greek branch of Friesland Campina also employs 470 Greeks and uses 15% of domestic milk production for dairy products and baby foods sold in Greece. Not to mention the international manufacturer Elais Unilever, which produces ‘Altis’ olive oil along with Becel and Vitam spreadable oils and fats, using Greek raw materials. Minerva, the leading exporting company of standardized Greek olive oil, is also owned by the multinational group PZ Cussons.
Coca-Cola HBC Greece, a franchised bottler of Coca Cola company, employs 2000 people and also provides consumers with a variety of its own brands and products. Athenian Brewery, a member of the Heineken group, employs 2000 Greek workers and purchases local barley for its products from Greek farmers. Evga ice cream brands have traditional been favored by Greeks because of the firm’s Greek identity and taste. But Evga’s brands and distribution network has been acquired by Unilever.
These are only some of foreign-owned companies in Greece employing Greeks (their businesses also translate a lot of work for advertising agencies, printing businesses, magazines, tv media etc)
And what about the wholly or partially Greek owned companies that operate in and outside of Greece using imported raw materials (and employing foreign workers in case they operate outside of Greece)? For example, Greece is the largest EU importer of high quality sesame seeds. A large scale of sesame is mostly used for the production of traditional food products, such as tahini, halva, and pasteli. It also imports fresh meat for traditionally cured meat products. Many Greek companies import goods from countries that pay low wages in order to make their products more affordable.
I mean that the benefits of supporting Greek products are immense in terms of sustainability, environmental protection, social ethics and economy. However, since we consume more than we produce we cannot live only on Greek products. And since for over 30 years we live in a world in which a few multinationals firms dominate the food markets, we can not always be sure where products are manufactured, where the raw materials come from or who profits.
But, of course, we can place a great emphasis on high quality products “made in Greece” or “produced in Greece”.
Despite the weaknesses (low levels of productivity, frequently changing legislation, low standardization ability in fruits, vegetables and olive oil, lack of promotion in markets outside Greece), the food and drink sector is one of the most important in Greece with high potential of further growth. Greece produces high quality olives, bottled water, bottled olive oil, honey, yogurt, cheese etc. Its climate is ideal for a plethora of fruits, vegetables and herbs. Wine is an export with promise. Thus the direction of agricultural sector and food and drink industries should be toward both the growth of production of high quality products and more exports. The European preference for traditional products, the tendency to “Mediterranean” diet and the growth of tourism offer great opportunities to Greece for strong sales. An aggressive promotion can help provide much-needed support.
*A certain degree of the love of everything foreign can be attributed to the end of long-term political instability and poverty as well as to tourism. The xenomania was also enhanced by mass media and by Greek students and professionals living abroad.
Charlafti Gelina: Greek commerce and shipping at the north coast of the Black Sea.
Vassilis Patronis: Between state and market forces: Greek agricultural cooperative organizations in transition period.
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