`Germany's Consumer Watchdog Warns Olive Oil Quality Is Falling - Olive Oil Times

Germany's Consumer Watchdog Warns Olive Oil Quality Is Falling

By Paolo DeAndreis
Apr. 11, 2024 14:36 UTC

The results of ran­dom test­ing by Germany’s national con­sumer watch­dog have led to ques­tions about the qual­ity of extra vir­gin olive oil being shipped into Europe’s largest econ­omy.

Stiftung Warentest col­lected 19 brands labeled as extra vir­gin olive oil from major retail­ers and sub­jected them to phys­io­chem­i­cal and organolep­tic test­ing.

The watch­dog found that six sam­ples failed to meet stan­dards to be labeled extra vir­gin, fea­tur­ing a median of defects above zero.

See Also:The Categories of Olive Oil

Those olive oils should not have been sold as extra vir­gin,” the testers wrote in their con­clu­sions, pub­lished by Der Spiegel. The ran­cid notes are due to con­tact with oxy­gen and in some cases to dam­aged raw mate­ri­als such as dam­aged olives.”

A fur­ther 11 sam­ples fea­tured phys­io­chem­i­cal and organolep­tic prop­er­ties only slightly above the thresh­old sep­a­rat­ing vir­gin and extra vir­gin olive oil. Only two sam­ples were well within the para­me­ters defin­ing extra vir­gin olive oil.

These results are unsur­pris­ing and align with my expec­ta­tions,” said Korbinian Ehrenberger, the owner of Protos Mediterrane Spezialitäten, a food importer in Oberpframmern, near Munich.

Among the prod­ucts tested were well-known brands exported glob­ally and pri­vate-label bot­tles from Lidl, Aldi, Rewe and Edeka. Following the test, Edeka and Kaufland, two large retail chains, recalled sev­eral of the prod­ucts.

Comparing the results with qual­ity tests con­ducted in pre­vi­ous years, Stiftung Warentes claimed that olive oil qual­ity has become worse while retail prices sky­rock­eted. The testers believe cli­mate change is the main cul­prit for the decline.

Germany is Europe’s third-largest olive oil importer and the fifth-largest glob­ally after Brazil, Italy, Spain and the United States.

I think it was quite vis­i­ble over the past years that qual­ity is being impacted by exter­nal fac­tors, such as cli­mate change,” Ehrenberger said.

Over time, we’ve observed a grad­ual decline in qual­ity; for instance, the free acid­ity lev­els in olive oil have been creep­ing up, albeit stay­ing within the thresh­olds required for clas­si­fi­ca­tion as extra vir­gin,” he added.

The IOC trade stan­dards, adopted and rec­og­nized by European Union reg­u­la­tions, define extra vir­gin olive oil as hav­ing a free fatty acid con­tent expressed as oleic acid less than 0.8 grams per 100 grams and a median of zero defects.

According to Stiftung Warentest, con­sec­u­tive poor har­vests in Spain and else­where in the Mediterranean basin resulted in sig­nif­i­cant price increases for all grades of olive oil but also low­ered the price dif­fer­ence between the low­est grade, lam­pante, and extra vir­gin.

It is impor­tant to under­stand that the more olive oil we need, the less focus will be on qual­ity, as there is no chance of pro­duc­ing the right amount of the required qual­ity and in the required quan­tity,” Ehrenberger said.

When Spain faces chal­lenges, the entire indus­try feels the impact, par­tic­u­larly in terms of qual­ity,” he added. This is because Spanish pro­duc­ers, bound by deliv­ery con­tracts spec­i­fy­ing pre­cise quan­ti­ties with German importers, find them­selves in a tight spot.”

Ehrenberger said pro­duc­ers often buy olive oil from third par­ties to meet con­tract require­ments and may not thor­oughly test the qual­ity.


High prices can also impact the qual­ity of pri­vate-label brands, which are highly price-sen­si­tive. To meet demand, they buy the prod­uct from mul­ti­ple sources, with price as the main pri­or­ity, not qual­ity,” Ehrenberger said.

However, Ehrenberger and Stiftung Warentest pointed to the lim­i­ta­tions of the sam­pling, which was rel­a­tively small in scale and focused on pri­vate-label brands sourced from Spain and Greece.

They are not many; the poll is not large,” Ehrenberger said. On top of that, we are only talk­ing about extra vir­gin olive oil sold in big super­mar­kets.”

High-qual­ity prod­ucts are not present on those shelves,” he added. Olive oil we import, for instance, is not on sale by those large retail­ers.”

Like many other bou­tique sell­ers in Germany, Ehrenberger buys small quan­ti­ties directly from farm­ers and millers. However, most German con­sumers still pur­chase olive oil from large retail­ers.

Looking at the big pic­ture, we do not have a suf­fi­cient qual­ity con­trol mech­a­nism as a coun­try,” Ehrenberger said.

He added that his store asks pro­duc­ers for a cer­ti­fied analy­sis of each batch of oil shipped and tests the oils inde­pen­dently.

By stay­ing in con­tact with our pro­duc­ers through­out the sea­son, we are aware of what is hap­pen­ing,” Ehrenberger said. For instance, we have a Greek pro­ducer strug­gling with yield. Since qual­ity comes first, our part­ner is now telling us that vol­umes will not meet expec­ta­tions.”

While olive oil con­sump­tion in Germany con­tin­ues to increase, Ehrenberger said that edu­ca­tion sur­round­ing qual­ity is still in its infancy.

I do not expect a big reac­tion to the test,” he said. The rea­son is that the olive oils that were tested are cheap prod­ucts at the lower end of the price range. Consumers who buy such prod­ucts are prob­a­bly more con­cerned about price than qual­ity. Or else, they are not aware of how qual­ity relates to price.”

Such reports exert con­sid­er­able pres­sure on pro­duc­ers, espe­cially as major dis­count retail­ers with­draw prod­ucts due to inad­e­quate qual­ity,” Ehrenberger added. This sce­nario demands a sig­nif­i­cant shift in how com­mu­ni­ties, insti­tu­tions and pro­duc­ers cul­ti­vate and process olive oil.”


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