High Prices Are Changing How Italians Feel About Olive Oil

Consumer surveys show Italians are buying less extra virgin olive oil, while other data confirm lower supermarket sales.
By Paolo DeAndreis
Mar. 13, 2024 15:28 UTC

A long-held fear of Italian olive oil pro­duc­ers who were forced to raise their prices has come to pass: Italian house­holds are using less olive oil. 

According to the lat­est sam­ple sur­vey, a grow­ing share of con­sumers opt to pur­chase alter­na­tive edi­ble oils for cook­ing as olive oil prices remain well above the aver­age of the pre­vi­ous decade. 

Istituto Piepoli found that 30 per­cent of respon­dents shifted to new buy­ing habits as the price of extra vir­gin olive oil rose from €4 to €9 per liter.

See Also:Olive Oil Sales Slump in Spain and Italy Amid Rising Prices

According to the sam­ple sur­vey pub­lished by IlSole24Ore, 12 per­cent of con­sumers reduced their spend­ing on extra vir­gin olive oil by more than half. A fur­ther 47 per­cent of con­sumers said they now spend 30 per­cent less on olive oil.

While 55 per­cent did not change their cook­ing habits, the rest of the con­sumers chose cheaper seed oils for cook­ing, keep­ing olive oil only as an occa­sional ingre­di­ent. Three per­cent chose other oils for all their needs.

Only a frac­tion of the inter­viewed con­sumers (three per­cent) agreed that a fair price tag for one liter of extra vir­gin olive oil should be around €12, with the vast major­ity indi­cat­ing €7 is a fair price.

The sur­vey mea­sured con­sumer sen­ti­ment, includ­ing their atti­tudes toward the econ­omy and per­sonal finan­cial sit­u­a­tion. According to sev­eral olive oil pro­duc­ers, those num­bers do not reflect the actual extra vir­gin olive oil sales trends.

Despite the price increase in 2024, con­sump­tion of Italian extra vir­gin olive oil has grown by three per­cent, demon­strat­ing that con­sumers appre­ci­ate the qual­ity and the trace­able Made in Italy’ prod­uct,” said David Granieri, pres­i­dent of Unaprol, an olive oil pro­duc­ers’ asso­ci­a­tion, sug­gest­ing that the appeal of Italian extra vir­gin olive oil remains strong.

Zefferino Monini, the chief exec­u­tive of Monini, one of the largest Italian olive oil pro­duc­ers, agreed, adding that sam­ple sur­veys only cap­ture con­sumer mood.

Nielsen data, which track actual sales, show a slight drop,” he said. In 2023, extra vir­gin olive oil sales by large retail­ers dropped 9.5 per­cent,” adding that there had been a 7.8 per­cent decrease for January and February 2024.

Monini said he believes that the promis­ing results of the cur­rent har­vest will lower prices in the mid-term, bring­ing them down to €6 per bot­tle.

While high olive oil prices are mostly attrib­uted to the vastly reduced global olive oil pro­duc­tion over the last two years, pro­duc­ers believe those price tags might help change the per­cep­tion of extra vir­gin olive oil on the mar­ket.

Consumers are learn­ing that if they need to spend more for the prod­uct, the best choice is to spend on a prod­uct made in Italy,” said Chiara Coricelli, the chief exec­u­tive of Pietro Coricelli.

When extra vir­gin olive oil was sold at €3 per bot­tle, it was deval­ued,” she added. Those prices were not sus­tain­able as they could not guar­an­tee income across the whole pro­duc­tion chain.” 

Days before the sam­ple sur­vey sur­faced, Andrea Carrassi, the gen­eral direc­tor of the Italian Association of the Edible Oil Industry (Assitol) olive oil group, warned that extra vir­gin olive oil could not be con­sid­ered a com­mod­ity. 

This is the right his­tor­i­cal moment to con­vey a mes­sage to the con­sumer, which is that extra vir­gin olive oil has a very spe­cific value, which means it has to be paid for fairly, just like what has hap­pened with wine,” he said.

Assitol has recently asked national and European insti­tu­tions to launch rel­e­vant com­mu­ni­ca­tion cam­paigns to pro­mote the health ben­e­fits of extra vir­gin olive oil.

Sara Merigo, the chief exec­u­tive of Istituto Piepoli, con­firmed that sales data dif­fer from con­sumer sen­ti­ment. She attrib­uted the sur­vey’s sig­nif­i­cant reac­tions to the unique rela­tion­ship Italians have with extra vir­gin olive oil.

It is not just a prod­uct,” she said. It rep­re­sents us on the inter­na­tional stage and has been part of our diet for cen­turies.” 


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