Largest Family-Owned Olive Ranch to Launch New Industry | The Olive Oil Source

Largest Family-Owned Olive Ranch to Launch New Industry

Source: Barbara Marino
October 09, 1998

Phoenix, Arizona – Perry and Brenda Rea have announced their plans to produce Arizona olive oil and become competitive within the global marketplace. Since 1997, the couple has planted over 43,000 olive trees in Friendly Corners, Arizona, and forty-five miles southeast of Phoenix. Reas’ Olive Ranch, which is in the process of becoming certified organic, controls over 1,800 Arizona acres and is the largest privately-owned olive grove dedicated exclusively to the production of extra virgin olive oil in the country.

Historically, only the state of California has produced olive oil of any quantity in the United States. But according to Harold Payne, certified professional agronomist and soil specialist who designed the innovative cost and water efficient irrigation system on the Rea property, "this part of Arizona is ideal for olive growing. Our climate, which is cooler than the valley, is just like the parts of Spain, Greece and Italy that have been growing olives and producing olive oil for thousands and thousands of years."

The demand for extra virgin olive oil, especially olive oil produced in this country, is growing by leaps and bounds. In the last decade, according to July story in the Los Angeles Times, "olive oil consumption has risen steadily among increasingly health-conscious American consumers…and in 1996-97, olive oil sales in the U.S. rose 31% over 1995-96 sales. And yet the United States only produces .1% of the world’s olive oil."

But in the last decade, according to Ken Stutz, president of the California Olive Oil Council the number of olive oil producers in California has jumped "from five or six to over fifty."

To research and study the complexities of olive farming and olive oil production, Perry Rea met with growers and producers in central and southern Italy. He and his wife spent time in California’s wine (and recently, olive oil) country attending olive oil production seminars and workshops. After spending six months looking at sites throughout central Arizona, he and Brenda chose the Friendly Corners farm. The property boasted rich soil, good land value and close proximity to the highly successful 600 acre Gila River Farms olive orchards which have been producing top-quality olives for over three years.

Perry Rea is the former president of Formrite Corporation, his family-owned automotive parts manufacturing company, which employed over 1,200 workers in seven plants throughout North America. When the company was sold 1995, he and his wife decided they wanted to form a working partnership to create a family business that would provide a healthy and simpler lifestyle for them and their three (soon to be five) children.

A successful, highly competitive businessman with a strong entrepreneurial spirit, Perry Rea says he and his wife started this business "literally from the ground up in order to control all aspects of production. From the raw material – the soil, water, trees and fruit – to our state-of-the-art Alfa Laval olive press, every aspect of this operation will be the latest in technology and efficiency. If you want a world-class product, you need to have a world-class operation."

>"The Rea’s are visionaries," says Jack Doughty, president of Three Rivers Ag Investments who first showed the family the farmland in Friendly Corners. "They’ve taken a historic, abandoned cotton farm, revitalized it and are pioneering what I predict will become a major growth industry with untapped demand for the state of Arizona."

Executive Vice President of the Agri-Business Council of Arizona, David Iwanski says, "we are big advocates for the success of this business and strongly support the Rea’s efforts. We feel between Arizona, California and Northern Mexico we can generate a year-round supply of olives to meet a rapidly growing market demand".

Reas’s Olive Ranch, is located less than twenty-five miles from the Gila River Farms, part of the Gila River Indian Community. Until the Rea’s fruit is ready to be harvested in approximately three years, they have entered into a unique agreement with the Gila River Indian Community. Reas’ Olive Ranch plans to buy olives from Gila River Farms to produce extra virgin olive oil. A portion of the proceeds from the sales will be donated back into the Community.

"We are pleased with our long-term agreement with the Rea family," says Roger Hooper, general manager of Gila River Farms. "By using our olives to produce olive oil, Reas’ Olive Ranch will give our community another value-added product that normally would not get into the marketplace."

If all goes as planned, The Rea’s will press and bottle the Gila River Farms fruit in October at the Critelli California Olive Company in Richmond, California. Edward Pizzuti, vice president of Critelli says, "in California we are experiencing an olive oil renaissance. Now that Arizona is joining in, it reinforces what we predicted a few years ago – the United States could become a major producer of olive oil."

Perry Rea is emphatic, "I have a very clear vision for this business. The basics are always the same – find out what the customer wants and deliver it with consistent quality and good value. There’s no reason why the United States can’t become world-class competitive in the production of extra virgin olive oil."