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Norfolk tree surgeon’s Greek olive oil venture finally pays off – after 16 years

PUBLISHED: 09:55 02 June 2017 | UPDATED: 09:55 02 June 2017

Jerry Cox of The Oil Tree, with olive oil produced on his farm in Greece. Pic By Chris Hill

Jerry Cox of The Oil Tree, with olive oil produced on his farm in Greece. Pic By Chris Hill

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After 16 years, a Norfolk tree surgeon’s labour of love has finally come to fruition as the first bottles of his Greek-grown olive oil are imported into his home county.

Jerry Cox of The Oil Tree, working on the olive trees at his farm in Greece. Picture: The Oil Tree Jerry Cox of The Oil Tree, working on the olive trees at his farm in Greece. Picture: The Oil Tree

Jeremy Cox, 60, from Holt, bought his olive farm in Greece in 2000 and, after renovating the trees and the house on the land, he moved there with his wife Lexi in 2008, with the goal of making a business out of the oil.

“This is when we started to hit the Greek bureaucracy wall,” he said. “We found it impossible to move forward with any of our projects because of all the paperwork. When you have supplied the Greek authorities with all the paper they ask for more, by which time the original papers are out of date.”

Mr Cox decided to cut his losses four years ago, selling the house, but keeping the trees and the land – which led to the business breakthrough last year.

“I thought there had to be a way of continuing to make the olive oil, because the oil was such good quality,” he said.

Jerry Cox of The Oil Tree, with olive oil produced on his farm in Greece. Pic By Chris Hill Jerry Cox of The Oil Tree, with olive oil produced on his farm in Greece. Pic By Chris Hill

“We went back to Greece last spring to do some more paperwork and I mentioned to Natassa Koureta, who now manages our farm for us, that I was sick of not being able to export my oil and my olives because I couldn’t obtain an export licence. She said: ‘Why don’t we combine our farms and then we will have enough trees to qualify for the export licence?’ Nobody had ever told me of this requirement.

“So we put our farms together, I had 200 trees and she had 4,000, and we formed a business called The Oil Tree.”

The Oil Tree sent its first shipment of oil, olives and tapenade to Norfolk in time for a Christmas Fair at Little Plumstead. Since then, Mr Cox said he has had an “overwhelming response” at food fairs and markets across the county, and the products are also being sold at Bakers and Larners in Holt, and at Jarrold’s delicatessen and Notcutts Garden Centre in Norwich.

Now, he hopes to build up the turnover to the point where he can stop working as a self-employed tree surgeon.

“I am 60 and I can’t climb trees for a living for ever,” he said. “So I intend to expand this and build this up to a full business based from Holt.

“It has taken 16 years to get this far, but I like telling this story to the public, because it is a real story. I think it is a success story and I am extremely proud that I can finally share this wonderful product with people around here.”

BREXIT CONCERNS

As a cross-border businessman, Mr Cox said he is concerned about what Britain’s post-EU trading and tariff agreements will mean for The Oil Tree.

“From my point of view, Brexit has had no effect so far whatsoever, but I don’t know whether there will be tariffs applied for goods imported from Greece,” he said. “I don’t know, and no-one can tell me.

“It does worry me in the longer term. Our profit margins are realistic, based on the price I pay at the moment, but if we start doing big numbers it is important we know what the future implications of that could be.

“I am investing a lot of money in setting this up, and if the powers that be decided to put 15pc on anything coming from Greece then it changes the game for me.

“The advantage I have is it comes from my farm and there is no middle man so I can keep control of the prices.”

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