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International
23 March 2012

The Greeks can’t even sell olive oil without their own government getting in the way

A few weeks ago, the Deep End featured an everyday tale of Greek economic madness – the bookstore/café that could sell neither books nor coffee.

This story is even better – a New York Times profile of Greek entrepreneur Fotis Antopolous.

One day, Mr Antopolous decided to start up an e-business selling olive oil products:

  • "It took him 10 months — crisscrossing the city to collect dozens of forms and stamps of approval, including proof that he was up to date on his pension contributions — before he could get started. But even that was not enough. In perhaps the strangest twist of all, his board members were required by the Health Department to submit lung X-rays — and stool samples — since this was a food company."

And that was not the end of it:

  • "Before the banks would agree to act as clearinghouses for credit cards, they insisted that portions of the Olive Shop Web site — including the company’s marketing and privacy policies — be written exclusively in Greek, even though Mr. Antonopoulos tried to explain that his customers would not understand Greek.
  • 'We kept trying to tell them that the idea was to export — that customers might be Chinese, and they wouldn’t understand,' he said, throwing up his hands. 'It was useless.'"

Thanks to his heroic persistence – not to mention the, ahem, compliance of his board members – OliveShop.com is now a successful online retailer.

And not before time, because as a McKinsey report uncovered:

  • "Greece was the third-largest producer of olive oil in the world but exported 60 percent of its output to Italy in bulk. This allows Italy to capture an extra 50 percent premium on the price of the final product."

So, there you have it, the Greeks can’t even sell olive oil without their own government getting in the way. Perhaps it should get out of the way before we give it anymore money.

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