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7.5 Conclusions

The Syrian surplus problem goes along with the oil quality and organoleptic national standards. These aspects start with the production of olives which are of acceptable quality just before the harvest. Prices are not competitive enough to export to the EU and only a political agreement can open this market for a certain quota of export; consequently, this does not solve the future structural surplus. On the contrary, prices seem to be competitive in some international markets outside the EU, but exporters do not have enough experience in international trading and marketing information also because the firm size is too small to effectively face international markets. Moreover, exporters complain about Syrian laws, the bureaucratic procedures for export and the lack of a modern banking system as well as management training and marketing support.

Quality and its improvement are always considered in terms of technical quality, i.e. acidity and other chemical parameters, secondarily followed by organoleptic parameters. This quality, made up of two components, depends on compliance with producing, harvesting, processing and conservation procedures used to obtain olive oil. Thus, it can be said that the quality of this chain and final product “contain” procedures. It is the concept of “global quality” that is even wider due to the relationships between different stages (from farming to consumption) being not only physical, but also representing institutional relationships among agents. This is the reason why agents' behaviour has been studied through direct interviews.

Moreover, new marketing concepts become more important in relation to general surplus and an expected price decrease. In the agents' opinion, good products would show a certain capability to face market difficulties, which is a worthy approach. But “good” product is a relative concept. For instance, considering the relation between harvesting time and oil quality, the “suitable” time (i.e. neither at the beginning nor at the end of the harvesting season) is preferred by almost all different agents. But “suitable” is not an absolute word because it depends on consumers' tastes. Thus, agents should respond to suitable or early ripeness according to different market niches. This marketing concept is now a new cultural approach for producers who are used to selling what they traditionally produce.

Looking at different oil types, it becomes clear that Syrian agents have a large supply range; however, this does not mean that they have product differentiation in the marketing sense. In fact, differences are determined by good or bad olive production and different acidity degrees, not by marketing choices. At the same time, in trading millers' opinion, the Syrian olive oil market is divided into two similar portions (fruit-sharp oil and sweet oil). There is space also to promote internal marketing actions in the sense of real product differentiation. But also in international markets and consumers’ habits, different tastes and quality perception exist, as shown by the previous price analysis.

So, from the previous “institutional approach” and strategic marketing, a group of suggestions is derived. These are integrated because the chain is integrated and, in terms of policy, each act has to be considered in relation to others and has to work together; otherwise the quality of the chain is destroyed.

Briefly, to synthesize a larger range of suggestions, it can be concluded that a new export country, such as Syria, should choose clearly between two different strategies:

i) sell in bulk without product differentiation while trying to reach a satisfactory agreement with the EU; or

ii) qualify its products and present them on the global market (not excluding the EU).

These points will be briefly discussed.

The first strategy deals with cost and the need to reduce it. Improving, enlarging and modernizing processing plants help to lower costs and also to improve quality to cope and respect international standards. Extension services can still help farmers to improve the harvest and the delivery of olives to the mills. Finally, exporters need a modern, efficient warehouse system.

The second strategy deals with quality and product differentiation[66]; costs partially decrease thanks to modern plants which must guarantee quality, and they partially increase because of quality costs (control, analysis, certification, techniques, promotion and advertising, etc.). At the same cost or a little more, one can sell very well in international markets and although the initial and launching expenses are high, international management and marketing are quickly learned (by doing). Thus, transaction costs are lowered.

The last option is recommended because it is a market with a growth trend and a growth in consumers’ attention to quality (health and taste) is an opportunity to be exploited. The Syrian Government should focus on a strategy and pursue it with coherence in order to encourage agents.

[66] Syria has different areas of production of olive oil. These are characterized by different qualities and varieties of olives and, consequently, olive oils derived from them have or can have different tastes and flavours that can be distinguished with legal protection: denomination of origin and/or collective brand. Moreover, olive oil products are often linked to some cultural references, i.e. historical, artistic, mythological consequently, this can be exploited as well to sell in foreign markets. That is, in an olive oil consumption area, there can be two or more groups of people that prefer different qualitative oil types such as pungent or sweet, and local or foreign. Suggestions of some opportunities and names:

a) by origin: "Aleppo Extra Virgin Olive Oil" (message: from Aleppo's countryside); the name Aleppo is very well known and is associated with a good soap (olive oil based) and nice tales, besides being a beautiful city that is visited by many tourists;

b) by imagination/creativity: "Palmyra" - Extra Virgin Olive Oil (message: Palmyra is a very beautiful place, so the product is good).

Note in every denomination the different position of inverted commas.

The name and origin must be linked to the real guaranteed quality with a certification previously granted by the analytical laboratories. Every producer or trader can use the common brand adding it to his own trademark but he must respect common rules of production, with HACCP certification.

It is acknowledged that this set of rules and procedures is a very advanced system of quality, and there are difficulties in applying it. Training would be required for interested agents.

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