Romain Olivier in the land of black gold

It's a well-known saying: a company that doesn't move forward moves backwards. In an economic context that's not exactly inspiring, this maxim takes on its full meaning. At the Olivier family, cheese-makers from father to son, we don't like standing still. After Philippe, who has exported his cheeses and his passion to the four corners of Europe and as far afield as the Land of the Rising Sun, it's now the turn of son Romain to take up the challenge and attack the black gold market via Qatar, a country intent on making high-end tourism its second source of wealth.

Romain, how did you come up with the idea of targeting the Persian Gulf market?

It's a logical next step in our quest to export our crafts and know-how. It turns out that Qatar and other Middle Eastern countries want to develop high-end tourism and related food products. It's an important market because there's a lot of construction going on over there. It's really impressive. In the long term, we know that natural gas, the country's source of wealth, will decline. The Qataris want to become a tax haven and a land of top-class tourism.

Where have your steps as ambassador for Maison Olivier led you?

At the end of May, in Doha (Qatar), the "festival of fine dining" was held, showcasing all the products of French and international gastronomy. Specialists in caviar, lobster, cigars, champagne and desserts all met at the Ritz-Cralton, the palace where it all happens in Doha. Of course, it's not the locals who are the target clientele, but the restaurants. In this part of the world between Doha, Dubai, Barhein and Abbu Dabbi, the market is expected to reach fifty high-end restaurants within the next five years.

Is it profitable enough to organize regular exports?

First, we test. The fact remains that we have to constantly prospect for new leads, because this kind of approach fits in perfectly with our business philosophy, and in particular our need to showcase the good things about France. Over there, we're lucky enough to have my chefs on hand to explain our quality approach. In the UK, these exchanges, which are vital for my father and me, are lost. It's a bit like our philanthropic side, but there's nothing we can do about it: it's always the passionate side that's the main driving force. You know, when you explain how to identify, buy and work a cheese, you feel that people are captivated. You're selling a product that has a life. And people like that. To sum up, the outlook is twofold: business development and human adventure.

How will you ship your products?

Inspired by Anglo-Saxon methods, the Qataris are very keen on traceability. So we have a local contact to translate into English and Arabic. Next, we plan to open two stores: one at the Ritz-Carlton and another in Dubai.

Isn't manure expensive?

It's a notion that doesn't mean much over there. Nothing is the norm. For example, the airport security cars are all BMW 7 series. Our products are delivered very quickly: D+2 from Boulogne by air. Overall, given the high cost of transport, the price of cheese is doubled.

Which shapes are the most popular?

Goats are all the rage, but apart from the alcohol-based cheeses, which are subject to current regulations and mandatory quarantine, the traditional palette is on sale.

What did the Doha Festival do for you?

We were two regional exhibitors among the Nationals, along with Meert in Lille. We finished second best exhibitor. It's a great reward and a sign of confidence for the future.

And the next step?

This will take place at the beginning of the year, in Dubai, with a festival involving Qatar, Abbu Dabbi and Kuwait.

Philippe Olivier generates 45% of his sales from exports. He sells his cheeses, matured in the Boulonnais cellars, to the following countries: United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, as well as Japan, Singapore and Tahiti. Philippe Olivier arrived in Boulogne in 1974. His father ran a delicatessen in Dieppe. As the family grocery business, a Norman tradition, fell to the eldest son, he was asked by his father to take his talents elsewhere.

Directed by La Voix du Nord

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