Friday, March 30, 2007

The State of Olive Oil Today

U.S. domestic sales of olive oil have grown by 20% every year for the last five years (168% increase over the last six).

U.S. regulations regarding olive oil were established in 1948 and have not been revised since.

California's olive oil production is predicted to surpass France by 2010, with production doubling in the next five years as newly planted orchards start giving fruit.

In 2004, the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) began petitioning the USDA to establish new trade standards for grades of olive oil, which could be accepted with a friendly administration in power (especially with the Speaker of the House being from California)

"The most important element of the new standards is that it will inform the consumer as to the true quality and character of the olive oil. To qualify as extra virgin, an oil must pass strict chemical analysis, as well as an objective sensory evaluation designed to ferret out defective flavors acquired during harvesting and processing." - COOC

This change will have a dramatic effect on olive oil retailers. No longer will they have most of the olive oils on their shelf displaying the words "Extra Virgin" on their label. No longer will Extra Virgin have the same ease of access for a producer as "natural," "homemade," "tastes great!" No longer will producers in other countries be able to relabel their product for United States sale using language they can't get away with in any other olive oil producing country of the world. These retailers will see the majority of their olive oils, if not all of them, changing their labels to less attractive but more accurate descriptions of the product inside.

Customers of those retailers who are already only buying an oil that says "Extra Virgin" will walk away from retailers who aren't prepared for this change and no longer have $8 extra virgin olive oils on the shelf.

Everything I'm reading about olive oil nowadays says that olive oil is poised in the position that wine was 30 years ago in the United States. Much of that change that happened in the 1970s was because of the focus that the University of California at Davis had on viniculture, reporting on which varieties grew best in which regions of California. The U of C at Davis is doing the same thing, with the same fervent push, regarding olive oil in the last few years--going so far as to bottle their own olive oil from their own trees and sell it to their students.

Retailers who take action now to educate their community about extra virgin olive oil will be able to build a base of customers who trust them and understand the cost of extra virgin olive oil and the differences among them.