Cobram Estate co-founder Rob McGavin discusses how Wellgrove came to be, and reveals the health benefits of olive oil and olive leaf extract.
What is the story behind Wellgrove olive leaf extract?
Wellgrove is the health and wellness arm of Cobram Estate, Australia’s most awarded extra virgin olive oil. Paul Riordan and I founded the business and started growing olives together in 1998 in northern Victoria. We didn’t really know a lot about growing olives at the time, of course no-one in Australia did at the time, so we just focused on trying to produce a really good quality product, focusing at that stage on extra virgin olive oil. Thanks to the support we’ve received from Australian consumers for our premium quality extra virgin olive oil, what started as a small family investment has matured into Australia’s #1 olive producer over 2.5 million olive trees across 6,500 hectares of pristine farmland.
One thing we became aware of over time is that the goodness from an olive tree, in particular the unique antioxidants for which extra virgin olive oils are famous, can be found not only in the oil but also in the natural by-products including the fresh leaves. So, over the last few years we’ve invested many millions in R&D in sustainability, focusing on how we capture more of the olive goodness from our leftover materials including our leaves. As a result of this project, we’ve recently launched Wellgrove, a sister brand to Cobram Estate, to bring some amazing new olive health products to Australian consumers.
What products does Wellgrove offer?
The first Wellgrove products released are our range of Australian grown and owned olive leaf extracts. Rich in antioxidants, we offer an Immune Support* Olive Leaf Extract, and a uniquely formulated Heart Health Extra Strength** Olive Leaf Extract. Both are available in capsule and liquid formats. More recently, we’ve released an olive leaf extract-based throat spray and throat gargle, and we have several new products under development. Our Wellgrove products are available online at wellgrovehealth.com.au and nationally across Australia in leading pharmacies and Coles supermarkets in the vitamin section.
Having won ‘Olive Grove of the Year’ by the Australian Olive Association, what’s the key to a high quality olive grove?
The high quality of our olive oil and our Wellgrove olive leaf extracts are a direct reflection of the health of our olive trees. Our groves contain over 10 varieties of olive trees, each with their own personality and make-up. We have thoroughly researched the antioxidant content of each variety and have selected the best to be used for our olive oil and olive leaf extracts.
What is an example of “holistic olive farming” and why is it important from a sustainability and health perspective?
Using the leaves is part of our initiative to usher in a new era of sustainable farming practices across our groves. By utilising the leftover leaves from our olive farms and capturing a small but growing share of the 7.5 million kilograms of olive leaves we “harvest” to produce Olive Leaf Tea, we maximise products from the Olive Superplant as well as enhancing the efficiency of inputs such as water, that is invested into the trees. Combining the use of by-products with other initiatives we have in place, including the use of our olive pit to create thermal bioenergy, we are supporting more holistic and sustainable farming practices.
What is the research behind the health benefits of olive leaf and olive oil?
There is a plethora of published research to demonstrate the health benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) and the Mediterranean Diet. The research shows that the antioxidant compounds found in EVOO (biophenols) – or antioxidants – are highly responsible for benefits to areas such as heart health, cholesterol health, brain health and even gut health. There is also emerging research about the olive leaf, with promising research in the areas of heart health and immune support. One of our missions is to add to this body of research and contribute to the science in this space.
What other products do you manufacture and how did they come about?
After visiting Europe, Japan and South Korea and seeing the emergence of olive leaf tea as a popular beverage, we’ve also launched a small craft tea brand, Stone and Grove. First brewed in late 2018, Stone & Grove has a range of six olive leaf teas and tisanes. They include a traditional Olive Leaf Tea, an all-Australian Olive Leaf and Green Tea Sencha blend, plus four wellness tisanes – Energy, Detox, Women’s Health and Immunity – perfect for this time of year. Stone & Grove teas are made using our estate-grown olive leaves from our trees in North-West Victoria, picked and handcrafted from tree to tea in 12 hours, and are specifically designed to promote general wellbeing.
What makes you one of the key innovators in the “new world” olive industry?
We are one of the only companies in the world that has been able to implement tree to table large scale olive production delivering superior quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Australians have a willingness to try and fail – something I call “trial and terror”, and as such most of the equipment we use didn’t exist for olive industry. The olive industry is a relatively small one in Australia, so we were forced to adapt and invent our own equipment and practices, influenced by our backgrounds in agriculture, wine growing and what we saw happening overseas.
What motivated you to launch a US operation in California and how has it been received?
We had been exporting Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil to the USA and found an area in California with idea olive growing conditions and bought a small farm. We are now the third largest producer of Californian Extra Virgin Olive Oil – our Californian range is exclusively sold in the US only.
Less than 5% of the olive oil consumed in the USA is grown locally – so we thought there was an opportunity to grow olives over there like we do in Australia, as the American consumer is interested in quality, health and locally-grown products.
What’s your favourite way to use olive oil?
Obviously, I splash it on everything… I pretty much put olive oil on anything that moves in my kitchen! Although my favourite is on toast with vegemite and drizzled on my wife’s lamb roast.
What’s one fact about olive oil that may not be widely known?
The biggest myth is that you can’t cook with extra virgin olive oil. The science is so clear on this one that not only can you cook with it, that you should cook with it. Extra virgin olive oil is a more stable, safer oil to cook with because of the type of fat that it is. It is monounsaturated fat which is very stable under heat and the antioxidants help to stop the oil from going rancid whilst being heated. There is some pretty great research coming out comparing extra virgin olive oil with other oils for cooking, and extra virgin olive oil comes out on top.
Do you have any childhood memories of olive trees, olive oil etc? Farming? Community harvest etc?
I grew up on a sheep and cattle farm in central Queensland, working with my family. The community and family aspect of farming to me is important – and I’m proud of the culture and strong family values that are at the core of our company.
ALWAYS READ THE LABEL. FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS FOR USE.
*Traditionally used in Western Herbal medicine to help support immune system health.
**Wellgrove Heart Health Extra Strength contains 47% more total oleuropein per dose than Wellgrove Immune Support