Thursday, June 26, 2014

Per Capita Consumption in Australia Trends Down

The per capita consumption of olive oil in Australia is on the decline. The graph below shows a steady decline in consumption since a high in 2006. The drop from just under 2.33kg (2.53 litres) per person in 2006 to 1.76kg (to 1.91 litres) indicates a disturbing 25% decline in consumption per person.

Infusion Ban May Hit North American Olive Oil and Vinegar Boutiques

In 2011 the Olive Business newsletter asked the question ‘Should something be done about the labelling of infused ‘extra virgin’ olive oils or is it more convenient to live with this inconvenient truth?’
Now three years later the International Olive Council has turned its attention to resolve the issue.
The IOC ‘Trade Standard Applying to Olive Oils and Olive Pomace Oils’ clearly states that no food additives can be added to olive oil, with the exception of a small amount of alpha-tocopherol for refined olive oils. The essences, fruit, herbs and spices added as infusions or flavours are obviously food additives.
The push by the IOC to have member countries ban the descriptor ‘olive oil’ being used on any infused olive oils will have wide implications for the trade, especially in the boutique olive and vinegar stores in the USA and Canada. Flavoured oils are popular in these countries and make up a large proportion of the sales in the boutique stores.
It will be interesting to see how active those who have been at the forefront of exposing allegedly ‘fraudulent’ olive oils will be in policing this obvious breach of international trade standards. There are also implications for competitions such as the LA Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition and the Australian Olive Association Competition which include classes for flavoured oils.
The ability to infuse olive oils with different tastes and aromas, and the inability to test the base olive oil for integrity, has enabled the use of non-compliant oils to be used in the infused oils.
If there isn’t an innovative new descriptor developed that is attractive to consumers, the decline in the sale of infused oils could increase the amount of olive oil in the market which does not comply with the extra virgin olive oil classification.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Why is Worldwide Consumption of Olive Oil Declining?

Olive oil prices across all classifications are down and recent International Olive Council data shows that imports into major importing countries such as the USA, China and Australia are down. Even in Spain, the world’s largest producer, there are reports of reduced consumption of olive oil, with the exception of extra virgin olive oil which has shown a slight rise. The data provided generally measures the tonnage of olive oil traded, data of value of oil traded is scarce. It may well be that while tonnage is down, value may be up indicating the higher price and volume of extra virgin olive oil sold.

The downward trend in olive oil trade by tonnage can be for a number of reasons.


The perception of the value and integrity of olive oil among consumers has been affected by the publicity concerning allegedly fraudulent trade in olive oil publicised across all media. Confused, consumers are turning to other vegetable oils for their household needs.


The trend towards higher polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil, pushed as a measure of quality and shelf-life by some producer associations, is resulting in a product which tastes too bitter and ‘hot’ for most consumers.


The dual trends of increased production of extra virgin olive oil worldwide and the demand for higher prices from producers is setting prices too high for consumers with diminished disposable income.


All the above is leading to an oversupply of olive oil, especially the higher priced extra virgin olive oil. This in time should lead to a reduction in price to consumers and increased consumption. Producers may not be happy with this and need to adjust production costs – perhaps harvesting a little later to increase yield and produce a greater range of less robust extra virgin olive oil for consumer palates.

Olive Industry Needs a Mantra

The olive industry needs a mantra, spiritual, audible, visible and ever present in the thoughts of policy makers, producers and all those involved in the industry.

It should be invoked before any far reaching decision is made and before any campaign plan is developed and launched.

We suggest the following:

‘All olive oil is better than other vegetable oils and extra virgin olive oil is the best olive oil.’

Making this mantra central to our thoughts may bring the recognition that we must put the progress and public perception of olive products before any utterance which will discredit them.

In the past three years the public perception of olive oil has taken a battering from the self-interested campaigns in many producer and consumer regions which have sought to gain market prominence for a particular brand or region by discrediting other brands or regions. This undermining of consumer confidence is surely contributing to the decline in olive oil consumption in most importing countries, and even in some countries which are major producers.

Competition is necessary for progress, but we should never forget that we are not only competing with other olive oil products, but more importantly, we are also competing with other vegetable oils. Comparative trends show that the olive industry is losing the battle and it is time that industry leaders at all levels showed real leadership and pulled the industry together.

It is also incumbent on those of us involved in the olive industry to reinforce the positives, deal effectively with the negatives and never lose sight of the consumer, who is generally disinterested in the technical and competitive machinations of the industry and just wants an affordable, trustworthy, healthy and flavoursome olive oil.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

IOC Mario Solinas Award an Iberian Feast

The International Olive Council Mario Solinas Quality Award is undoubtedly the most rigorous of all the world’s extra virgin olive oil competitions. The samples entered are monitored from the producer’s tank, fully tested to international trade standard at accredited laboratories and the award labeling of the winning olive oils is controlled.

However, in 2014 the Prize winners and finalists from the 138 entries were all from Spain and Portugal, with the exception of two finalists in the mild fruitiness class coming from Tunisia. Only two entries came from the world’s second largest producing country, Italy, and 6 from Greece, the third largest producer.

The apparent global shift to more intense extra virgin olive oils with their stronger flavours is reinforced in the competition by the lack of a third prize winner for the Ripe Fruitiness Class and only 3 out of a possible 6 finalists being selected for this class and 5 out of a possible 6 for the Mild Fruitiness Class.

The IOC does not publish the list of its accredited tasting panels which judge the entries but it would be a fair bet that tasters from Spain and Portugal dominate and the preference for more intense/robust oils follows.

The IOC has the opportunity to establish a truly international extra virgin olive oil quality award with a guarantee to customers that the oils that win are the oils they buy when the award stickers are on the label.

To do this the Council must establish an entry process and award judging panel that is truly international, representing the major growing regions and recognising the different intensities of extra virgin olive oil which compliment the cuisine of different countries.

If the IOC does not make this transition with the Mario Solinas Quality Award it will continue to be a much revered prize on the Iberian Peninsula and mostly ignored elsewhere.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Greece Needs More Variety in Extra Virgin Offering

There is an opportunity for Greek extra virgin olive oil producers to diversify the range of Greek oils on offer. Most of the oils from the region come from the koreneiki variety, with a low percentage of other olive varieties mixed in. This results in a limited range of tastes, differentiation coming from harvest timing, altitude and agronomic but not varietal differences.

In a recent visit to Greece the writer tasted some oils ‘off the line’ from some varieties other than koreneiki. The extra virgin olive oils had different and equally attractive taste profiles as the koreneiki oils.

There are some difficulties in identifying the different varieties in old groves where they are intermingled. However, it may be worth the effort if the farmers were given an incentive to harvest the trees separately to produce a boutique olive oil which commands a premium price.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Los Angeles EVOO Awards Give Less Gold than New York

The New York International Olive Oil Competition results are launched with the glitz and glamour of a premiere of a Broadway musical. The results of the Los Angeles Extra Virgin Olive Oil Awards are posted quietly on the internet.

That is not the only difference in style, of the 57 extra virgin olive oils entered in both shows, 51% received the same medal, 44% (42% in 2013) received a higher medal award at the New York Competition and only 5% received a higher medal at the LA Show.

The LA Show was less intense too, with 103 extra virgin olive oils being awarded gold medals, in sharp contrast to New York, 29% (NY 58%) were deemed robust, 53% (NY38%) medium and 18% (NY 4%) delicate.

LA attracted 561 entries, 90 less than the 651 at New York. Gold went to 20% in LA, silver to 20%, bronze to 14% and 46% did not receive an award.

For the record, the cost of entering the LA Competition is $100 per entry and the New York competition costs $200 per entry up to December 31 and $250 thereafter.

Obviously all that extra gold given out in New York is expensive!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Differentiation of Extra Virgin Olive Oils Essential

The push for longer shelf-life and higher polyphenol levels by quality certifying organisations with their associated standards could be threatening more delicate tasting extra virgin olive oils.

It is notable that in the extra virgin olive oils tasted at recent Savantes programmes there have been fewer oils exhibiting the riper fruit flavours of later harvested olives.

These olive oils are ‘sweeter’ and exhibit more tropical fruit flavours than their robust counterparts which tend to green vegetal peppery flavours. They have a particular culinary use in fish cuisine, pastries, baking and desserts.

While the more robust oils with longer shelf-life – two years and over – may suit the marketers better, producers must be careful that they are not producing a taste in olive oil which many consumers and cuisines don’t like. There is a danger of following the path the engineers of the modified tomatoes took to give the fruit longer shelf-life, sending consumers looking for a tomato which tasted like a tomato.

It is important that the offering of flavours of extra virgin olive oil to the consumers remains diverse and pleases a range of palates.

Delicate Olive Oils Out of Flavour at NYIOOC 2014

The results of the New York International Olive Oil competition are out and there is much justified celebration among the winners.

Of the 651 entries, 180 (28%) received gold medals and 73 (11%) received silver medals. The balance, 398 oils (61%) were not considered by the judges to be worthy of medals in this competition

The worrying statistic coming from this is that the judges showed a strong bias towards awarding medals to robust oils and virtually ignored delicate oils. The number of oils classified delicate which entered the competition is unknown. What is known is that just 8 (4%) of the gold medals awarded went to delicate oils, 68 (38%) to medium oils and 104 (58%) to robust oils.

It would be interesting to see if this preference for stronger flavours would be similar if the same extra virgin olive oils were judged by a knowledgeable consumer panel rather than a panel of professional olive oil tasters.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Olive Oil Exploration - Waiheke Island, New Zealand

Having visited extra virgin olive oil producers and tasted their oils in most regions of New Zealand it was time to visit the groves of Waiheke Island, just a half hour ferry ride from Auckland. The Maori name Waiheke means ‘cascading or descending waters’.

Extra virgin olive oils from this region have received much publicity through winning many awards over recent years.

With some online research and the help of brochures we set off with a stream of day trippers with a sunny day complimenting the cool sea breeze washing over the ferry. As the skyline of Auckland faded and we weaved our way through many islands including the volcanic cone of Rangitoto, we sighted Waiheke with its green rolling hills and rocky coastline. The ferry docked neatly into the terminal at Matiatia Bay and off poured the day trippers, trampers and wine enthusiasts, interspersed with the locals kitted out in the casual New Zealand uniform of cargo pants and jandles.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Competitions to come under scrutiny

In the process of making the ‘Excellence Score’ assigned to extra virgin olive oils equitable, Savantes is researching extra virgin olive oil competitions around the world with a view to including the most rigorous in the calculation of excellence.

The main criteria to be considered in the ranking of competitions will be:

  • Entries being accepted from all producing regions
  • Independence of the organising enterprise
  • Rigour of the entry process including compliance of the extra virgin olive oils with international quality standards
  • Experience, breadth and independence of the judging panel
  • Processes in place to ensure that the oils bearing award claims and sold to consumers are the same as those that won the awards
  • Retention of samples and processes in place to deal with any disputes i.e. Redress when an oil is deemed to be defective

The results of the research will be used to rank the competitions and available to users of the GOOD application.

Will ‘Value’ be the new aid to buying excellent extra virgin olive oil?

Value is a concept developed by Savantes to give consumers a realistic appraisal of the value for money of extra virgin olive oils presented to them on retail shelves.

Confronted with a range of positive and negative publicity surrounding the quality of extra virgin olive oils and the burgeoning award medals on bottles, quality seals and proprietary campaigns promoting new classifications such as ‘Ultra Premium’, consumers are understandably confused.

Value will give extra virgin olive purchasers a simple tool which gives extra virgin olive oils an ‘Excellence Score’ based on their performance in selected international competitions.

All the customer needs to do is enter the price of the oils on the shelf and the app does the rest, dividing the ‘Excellence Score’ by the price giving the Value. The customer can then get a GOOD idea of the high quality of the extra virgin olive oils being sold at a competitive price
For example: To qualify an extra virgin olive oil must be entered in at least 3 of the selected competitions.

Scores given are 5 for a Gold Medal, 3 for Silver, 1 for Bronze. The three highest scores are used if more than 3 competitions are eligible.

  • EVOO 1 wins 3 gold medals and has an excellence score of 15.
  • EVOO 2 wins 2 golds and a silver and has an excellence score of 13. 
  • EVOO 3 wins 2 silvers and a bronze has an excellence score of 7. 

Once we have an excellence score we can give a Value = excellence score÷price.

If the retail price for all the products is $/€/£10 for a 500ml bottle (it doesn’t make any difference which currency is used) the ‘Values’ will be:

  • EVOO1 – 15÷10 = 1.5
  • EVOO2 – 13÷10 = 1.3
  • EVOO3 – 7÷10   = 0.7