Investing in Olives: From Moroccan Groves to Subway Sandwiches

Olives produced in Morocco export widely.
  • Story Snapshot

  • Country: Morocco
  • Volunteers: 2
  • Local Partners:

    TunInvest/AfricInvest

    Sicopa

  • Theme: Agriculture & Food Security, Trade & Investment

When Mehdi Mahtat, an investment officer at MarocInvest, started supporting Sicopa* two years ago, the agribusiness had already seen a complete transformation since its establishment in 1974. MarocInvest, a branch of the private equity fund managerTunInvest/AfricInvest, bought Sicopa in 2008, pulling the company out of debt and supplying it with the newest and best olive-production equipment that was available from Spain. Sicopa now has major clients around the world, including Subway in the United States. Despite the substantial success Sicopa has seen over the years, the company faces many challenges in improving its production and entering new markets. This is why Mehdi decided to pursue a partnership with VEGA.

Volunteer Jennifer Wang visiting the olive groves

Volunteer Jennifer Wang visiting the olive groves

USAID and Weidemann Associates awarded VEGA the innovative pilot project Engaging Venture Capital to Strengthen Agricultural Value Chains in Morocco in 2012 to test a new model that would bring together venture capital firms, international NGOs, and highly skilled American volunteers to provide capacity-building support to agribusinesses that in turn support the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. The pilot falls under USAID’s broader Farmer to Farmer program that has been in operation around the world since 1985.

The olives in production.

The olives in production.

According to Mehdi, one of Sicopa’s greatest challenges is finding new distribution channels. The company relies heavily on brokers but needs to be able to reach customers directly in the future. As a result, Mehdi jumped at the opportunity for Sicopa to host an MBA Without Borders Advisor for two months to provide guidance on how to access new markets and ramp up their communications platforms. VEGA Member PYXERA Global (formerly CDC Development Solutions) recruited and sent Ms. Jennifer Wang on this assignment, where she is currently working from Sicopa’s office in Fez until November.

The Societe Industrielle de Conserves d’Olives de Produits Agricoles (Sicopa) was established in 1974 in Fez, Morocco. The company specializes in Moroccan olives (all varieties), capers, sweet peppers, tomatoes and other vegetables.

In order to complement Ms. Wang’s volunteer assignment, Mehdi also requested technical assistance in the area of industrial efficiency. Dr. Ahmed Awad, a seasoned international volunteer and consultant with over 40 years of experience in the food sciences, was recruited to fill this role and sent to Morocco for two weeks in October by VEGA Member the International Executive Service Corps (IESC). Dr. Awad provided insight as to how Sicopa could improve its conservation of water and energy, personnel management, safety and maintenance measures, processing, and sanitation, all while taking into account best practices for environmental protection.

Volunteer Dr. Awad speaking with the olive producers.

Volunteer Dr. Awad speaking with the olive producers.

Dr. Awad noted that there is great potential for follow-up, particularly in regards to new product development, environmental impact, and quality control at Sicopa. Mehdi likewise expressed enthusiasm for welcoming additional volunteers, particularly those that would be available for longer term or repeat assignments in order to ensure that directives are effectively implemented. VEGA is looking forward to working with its partners to seek ways we can continue to support Sicopa and other agribusinesses in partnership with venture capital firms in Morocco, as well as in the broader region.

*You can follow Sicopa on Facebook,TwitterYouTubePinterest, and LinkedIn.