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Sovena USA hopes certification leads to growth

By Journal Staff


ROME — Olive-oil importer and bottler Sovena USA ended 2011 on a high note by becoming the first U.S. laboratory to be certified for chemical testing of olive oil by the International Olive Council (IOC).

The new certification positions the company to reassure buyers and consumers that its oils meet globally accepted standards for olive oil, it said.

“The International Olive Council certification is very prestigious in the olive field,” says Thomas Armitage, a marketing associate with Sovena USA (, in an email. “Over the past 18 months, questions challenging the quality of olive oil in the U.S. have received publicity and raised awareness of the potential for fraud. As one of the country’s top suppliers of olive oil, Sovena USA’s certification by the IOC provides another level of assurance to partners and customers in the retail, foodservice, and industrial markets.”

Companies undergo a rigorous process to become certified, Armitage says. Labs must first meet local accreditation standards. For Sovena, he says, that meant achieving ISO 17025 certification, which the company did in January 2010. Labs must then prove in regular check tests that they are competent in applying methods of analysis recommended by the IOC. Sovena achieved the IOC certification in December. Currently, Sovena is one of only 50 IOC-certified chemical-testing laboratories in the world and is the only lab in America.

“The achievement was the result of companywide support, as well as tremendous effort from our nine-member quality-assurance team,” Armitage says.

The hope is that the certification will reassure existing clients, which include BJ’s Wholesale Club, Price Chopper, Sysco, and Walmart, as well as help the company land new clients, Armitage says. Sovena packages more than half of all store-brand olive oils across the country.

Sovena, which employs 170 people at its Rome bottling facility and laboratory in Griffiss Business and Technology Park, also launched its own brand, Olivari Mediterranean Olive Oil, in 2010. Olivari, crafted to cater to the American palate with a more subtle, fruity taste, is available locally at Chanatry’s, Hannaford, Price Chopper, and Walmart.

“Business for Olivari continues to grow,” Armitage says. “Just recently, at the end of 2011, we secured new business at Foodtown, Redner’s, Stop & Shop, ShopRite, and White Rose. These retailers will help us continue building a stronger presence in the New England, Pennsylvania, and New York Metro areas.”

In 2012, Sovena USA will also continue its search for a new CEO to replace Luis Gato.

“Our former CEO stepped down this past fall to pursue other business ventures,” Sovena USA Board Chairman Stephen Mandia
says in an email. “The search for a new CEO here in Rome is going very well. We are looking for a highly skilled food executive that is a proven team leader and has hands-on experience in the retail and foodservice markets. We have found several very qualified individuals, and we hope to name a new CEO within the next 30-45 days.”

Antonio Simoes, CEO of the Sovena Group (Sovena USA’s parent company) is currently serving as CEO of Sovena USA while the search is under way. Portugal–based Sovena Group generates annual sales in excess of $200 million. Mandia served as Sovena USA’s CEO through 2009. Mandia founded the company as East Coast Olive Oil in Utica in 1991 before joining with Sovena in 2008.

Sovena, which operates its own olive groves in Portugal, does business in more than 70 countries and is America’s largest importer of olive oil. Products include olive oil, organic oils, high-volume frying oils, and a line of vinegars. Sovena also markets its own GEM brand.

Founded in 1959 in Madrid, Spain, the International Olive Council says it is the globally recognized intergovernmental organization for the olive-oil industry. Its members account for 98 percent of the world’s olive production.       

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