Olivado: Using Kenyan avocados to make the world’s best extra virgin oil

Mon, Jul 26, 2021

To get the oil that has impressed customers globally, the factory has set up an elaborate system of manufacturing that incorporates numerous checks and processes

Approaching the Olivado factory from Nairobi on the Kenol-Sagana road, turning left towards Kwa-Samaki on a murram road, one would hardly imagine that right in the middle of this nondescript rural setting lies a huge factory that has touched hundreds of thousands of lives.

Since setting up operations in Kenya in 2008, Olivado has increasingly become a household name in Kenya. From its factory in Murang’a near the town of Sagana, the factory receives millions of kilos of avocado fruit from its contracted farmers in 12 counties throughout the country.

“We have about 3,000 contracted avocado farmers,” says Olivado EPZ Ltd General Manager Peter Mwangi. “You will not get our product in the supermarket, because we are an EPZ firm (dedicated for exports). We have not started selling in the country; however, we hope to have the Olivado brand in Kenyan supermarkets by next year.”

Founded in New Zealand in 2000, Olivado is today the world’s leading producer of extra virgin avocado oil, providing 80 per cent of global supply and with its products sold in supermarkets in more than 33 countries.  With growth came the need to source raw materials from elsewhere around the world, and the central Kenya highlands were found ideal by the company.

Contracted farmers

Olivado does not have its own avocado plantations. The firm’s field teams visit contracted farmers regularly to ensure compliance with export standards, without which fruits consignments would stand to be rejected mainly in EU export markets. “We purchase both conventional fruit and organic fruit from our farmers however Organic fruits are our specialty,” says Mwangi.

Farmers growing organic fruits receive premium payments for their produce and are expected by the firm to adhere to stringent conditions. “We do rigorous training of the farmers,” says Mwangi. ”Our field teams do the harvesting to ensure complete traceability.”

Mwangi says an acre of avocado, well managed, can fetch the farmer up to Ksh1.3 million per year, making it one of the best investments for farmers. “This season, we are buying organic Haas at Ksh85 per kilogramme at the farm gate. We harvest and transport the fruit ourselves, removing this burden from the farmers.

The company’s good relationship with farmers is confirmed by Faith Awuor, the farm manager at the nearby 10-acre Orchards and Furrows Farm, who sees a bright future for avocados and has nothing but praise for Olivado. “Eight acres has avocado trees. I would urge other farmers to venture into this business of avocado farming,” she told Horticulture News.

Two dominant types of avocado are bought from farmers: Hass and Fuente. Hass is the most dominant due to its preference for export than Fuerte.  Farmers are advised to be careful during the purchase of seedlings. They should buy only the true Hass variety, which fetches higher returns. Other sub varieties such as the Giant Haas and golden Hass aren’t good for the export market. They are mainly for oil and fetch lower prices. A mistake in purchasing the wrong seedlings can only be discovered at fruiting two to three years later.

Indeed, the firm runs its own nursery where it propagates and sells high health true Hass seedlings to its farmers at discounted rates. The soil in the nursery is heat-treated to ensure control of fungi and other disease-causing soil borne microorganisms of concern such as Phytophthora cinnamon.

The demand for seedlings is high and the company is straining to meet the demand, with plans to enlarge the nursery.

“We do random tests on the seedlings to ensure they are free from Phytophthora cinnamon before we give seedlings to farmers,” said William Magoma, who is in charge of the tree nursery.

Pack house

After harvesting and once offloaded at the factory, the fruits meant for export pass through the pack house. “We don’t wash the fruit, or add any chemicals to the fruits.  They should be ‘as is’ from the farm, natural and organic,” says Production Manager Godfrey Barasa. A conveyor belt sorts out the fruits according to different sizes.  A team of workers then selects, inspects and packs the fruits into cartons, based on fruit  size, ready for export markets either by sea or air.

The company prides itself in its ability to use the whole avocado fruit.  “In our operations, there is no waste. All rejects from the fresh fruits destined for export are used in oil extraction.  The waste from this process is used in biogas production to generate our own power,” says Barasa.

Masters in oil extraction

But oil is not only extracted from defective fruits. In fact, says Barasa, Olivado’s dominant business is in oil extraction, with the export of fresh fruits a relatively a smaller operation. “Apart from the pack-house rejects, we mainly get fruit directly from farmers for oil extraction, of which the most dominant is fuerte variety.

To get the oil that has impressed customers globally, the factory has set up an elaborate system of manufacture that incorporates numerous checks and processes. The firm is keen to protect its manufacturing process from competitors.

Fruits are first placed in a series of 16 cold stores, where they are ripened under controlled temperatures. Once they have ripened sufficiently, they are passed through a destoner, where the skin and stone are removed. The paste moves to a crusher, then a malaxer machine where it is heated for about 45min using hot water. The paste is then moved into a decanter, which separates the liquid oil from solid waste. While the solid waste goes to making biogas, the precious liquid is moved into a separator, from where it is metered and stored in drums. Bottling takes place in The Netherlands.

This painstaking process of extracting extra virgin oil is quite unlike what other manufacturers do, crushing the whole fruit paste into oil.

At the biogas plant, the gas generated is purified into pure methane. Both liquid and solid fertilizers are also produced. The stones of the avocado fruits are processed into Avogrow, a brand name for the firm’s organic fertilizer that it sells to farmers.

But that’s not the end for this firm that has invested an estimated Ksh500 million in Kenya. “We do plan to increase the investment in Kenya,” said Mwangi. “We are looking into going into western Kenya and establishing two pack houses there, with an investment of up to €2.2 million (Ksh282 million). We need more farmers. We do not have enough produce to secure volumes.”

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