A lot of second and third generation Croatians have made the move in recent years to live in Croatia, reversing the trend of their parents and grandparents who left Croatia in search of a better life.
One of those is Martin Erlic, a third generation Croatian-Canadian who currently lives in Zadar. Born in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, Martin’s grandparents arrived in Canada in the 1960s and still reside there today.
“My mother’s side of the family is from around Mostar and my father’s side is from Dalmacija, near Biograd na Moru,” Martin starts of telling us, adding that Croatian culture played a big part in his childhood in Canada.
“I did the usual things that Croatian Diaspora kids do. I’d go to Croatian misa (mass) almost every Sunday, dance kolo, and attend folklore festivals. However, I did not visit Croatia often growing up and we did not speak the language regularly at home. I still remember my first trip to Croatia at the age of 10 years old very fondly.”
Over the years, Martin says, his exposure to Croatian culture faded. However, in 2015 he would get a software job in Prague, and because he was close to Croatia he was able to take short trips to visit his cousins and attend weddings.
“That’s when I experienced my first olive harvest and discovered my love for Croatia and olive oil.”
Martin’s grandparents started the agricultural corporation 20 years ago to grow and maintain the olive trees and today produce the premium cold-pressed brand Selo Olive Oil.
In 2017, Martin left his career as a software developer and decided to head to Croatia to visit his grandparents during the annual olive harvest.
“There was something mythical about it all, spending time among those ancient trees, those little wooden shrines that had nourished the peoples of that place, my selo (village) and others, for millennia. I did not know it then but I would soon find myself deeply entwined with their long and branching history,” he said.
When it was time to head back to Canada, Martin left half of his clothes in the selo to make room in his suitcase for 20 liters of the “finest extra virgin olive oil I’d ever tasted”.
“When I returned home, I wrote a single blog post about my olive oil and shared it on Twitter. I sold out my luggage supply in a matter of hours, and the rest is history,” Martin says.
Although the orchards have been around for decades, the importing business officially launched in Canada in 2018. After managing shipments and marketing remotely, Martin decided to make the move to live in Croatia when the pandemic hit.
“I moved to Croatia during the pandemic. I had been wanting to move for a few years, but the timing never worked out. But when the pandemic hit and everything in Canada shut down and work went fully remote, I saw it as a sign that it was finally time to make the move. The key for me in making the move was just taking the plunge and doing it. I had been wanting to move for so long that I just had to go for it. Once I made the decision, everything else fell into place.”
Today, Martin runs the import/export and sales side of the business, whilst they hire family, friends and labourers to handpick the olives at each harvest time.
The family’s Selo Olive Oil is very high in quality, full of unusual amounts of antioxidants and polyphenols compared to store bought brands.
“What makes Selo Olive Oil special is our authenticity and our commitment to our customers. We focus our marketing efforts on two fronts: education and entertainment. In my experience customers don’t care if their olive oil tastes like grass or artichoke, or if it’s won a prestigious award. What they care about are the health benefits. I find that customers are most interested in buying when engaged with us online. They enjoy learning about the history of olive oil, its health and beauty properties, and like watching how we cook with our olive oil on social media. We have hundreds of 5 star reviews and a perfect Net Promoter Score of 100%. We have a cult-like following that is both extremely satisfied with our product and who are willing to evangelise on our behalf for free, so Id say that’s pretty special,” Martin explains.
One of the benefits of being a direct to consumer retail brand with a large and growing internet audience is that they don’t have to appeal to wholesalers or compete for limited shelf space at supermarkets, he adds.
Currently, Selo Olive Oil is only available on their website to North American customers.
“We ship directly from our fulfilment partners in the US and Canada to customers’ doorsteps.”
Martin says that they are currently building a warehouse and storefront near their olive orchard in Biograd na Moru.
“Once that is ready we will explore domestic sales opportunities. We would also like to work with local farmers in the future to incorporate more of the regional olive oil supply for export to the North American market,” he adds.
Martin says that transition has been tough at times, but overall it has been an amazing experience.
“Croatia is an absolutely beautiful country and I am loving getting to know it. The people here are also incredibly friendly and welcoming. The biggest adjustment has been getting used to a slower pace of life. In Canada, everything is always go-go-go. But in Croatia, things are much more relaxed. It’s not alway easy to schedule a business meeting without also having a few drinks,” he says.
Martin says there are many things he likes about living in Croatia, including the friendly and welcoming people, the amazing food and the beautiful scenery.
Whilst Croatia is his new home, there are still things he misses about Canada.
“Mostly, I miss the convenience of being able to go shopping or get food whenever I want. I have a huge appetite and a diverse palette. The stores here close quite early, so it’s not always possible to get what I need when I need it. Additionally, I miss having a large variety of choices when it comes to restaurants. I still haven’t found a decent sushi joint, which is surprising since we’re near the sea. But these are creature comforts that I can live without and I’m sure even this will change with time,” Martin says.
With many second and third generations like Martin contemplating a move to Croatia, he has some advice for them.
“What are you waiting for? In terms of life, the food, the weather and the people are unmatched. In terms of business there are many opportunities for diaspora in Croatia. Agriculture, tourism and software development are seeing large gains. On the flip side, I’ve met many Americans who recently immigrated to Croatia who have no roots here at all and they are starting businesses and doing very well for themselves. So the opportunity is there, but Croatia is changing quickly so now is the time to act.”
You an find out more about Selo Olive Oil on the following links: