N. America

Olive Oil Importers Name New Director

The North American Olive Oil Association has named Colavita attorney Joseph R. Profaci executive director of the trade group of major American olive oil importers.

NAOOA offices in Neptune, New Jersey
Oct. 17, 2017
By Curtis Cord
NAOOA offices in Neptune, New Jersey

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The North Amer­i­can Olive Oil Asso­ci­a­tion has named Joseph R. Pro­faci exec­u­tive direc­tor of the trade group of major Amer­i­can olive oil importers. The posi­tion was pre­vi­ously held by Eryn Balch.

It is clear that the fake news’ epi­demic in the United States is not lim­ited to those seek­ing to gain polit­i­cal advan­tages.- Joseph R. Pro­faci

I am very proud to be lead­ing the NAOOA. This role is the cul­mi­na­tion of my 25 years in this busi­ness, and I feel well pre­pared to tackle the biggest issue the indus­try is fac­ing, which we believe is con­sumer con­fi­dence and trust,” Pro­faci told Olive Oil Times.

Joseph R. Pro­faci is a Har­vard and New York Uni­ver­sity-edu­cated attor­ney who has served as the gen­eral coun­sel for Colavita USA, the com­pany based in New Jer­sey founded by his father, John J. Pro­faci who began a part­ner­ship with Enrico Colavita in 1980 to dis­trib­ute the brand in the U.S.

Pro­faci’s fam­ily his­tory in the olive oil busi­ness goes back to another era: His grand­fa­ther, Joseph Pro­faci, was the founder of one of New York’s five crime fam­i­lies” known as the Colom­bos, and the inspi­ra­tion for Mar­lon Bran­do’s char­ac­ter in The God­fa­ther.” He was at one time the coun­try’s most noto­ri­ous rack­e­teer known as the Olive Oil King” and Don Pep­pino.”

In 2010, John J. Pro­faci’s son, John Pro­faci Jr. told the New York Post about the fam­i­ly’s evo­lu­tion to legit­i­mate’ busi­nesses: We’ve gone so far, our fam­ily has, since those days. We all went to good col­leges and got good edu­ca­tions. We are busi­ness­men … That’s so far removed from our past.”


My grand­fa­ther died in 1962, when I was two years old,” Joseph R. Pro­faci told Olive Oil Times. Six­teen years later, in 1978, my dad, John J. Pro­faci, was work­ing as a food bro­ker when he had the good for­tune of being intro­duced to Enrico Colavita who was trav­el­ing in New York on his hon­ey­moon. Sud­denly, my dad was in the olive oil busi­ness, and he, too, faced the same ques­tions – and not a few unde­served com­ments about the past.”

We’re proud of the respect that we’ve worked for and won, and I would hope to be judged on my own mer­its rather than out­dated and dis­con­nected stereo­types,” he added.

Pro­faci, who started yes­ter­day in his new role, leads a trade group that has taken an increas­ingly offen­sive stance against what it sees as inac­cu­rate state­ments that have dam­aged the rep­u­ta­tion of imported olive oils.

At this point last year, the olive oil asso­ci­a­tion was reel­ing from the recent report of olive oil fraud on CBS’s 60 Min­utes,” Pro­faci wrote recently in the Asso­ci­a­tion of Food Indus­tries (AFI) annual report. As a result our mem­bers chal­lenged the asso­ci­a­tion to devise a strate­gic plan both to respond to con­tin­ued attacks against imported olive oil, and to redou­ble our efforts to pro­mote pos­i­tive news about the cat­e­gory.”
See more: 60 Min­utes’ Looks at Olive Oil Adul­ter­ation in Italy
In Novem­ber 2016, the group sued tele­vi­sion’s Dr. Oz’ for claim­ing dur­ing a show that aired in May 2016 that 80 per­cent of the extra vir­gin olive oil sold in U. S. super­mar­kets isn’t real.” That suit was dis­missed last March.

The asso­ci­a­tion was dis­ap­pointed in and dis­agreed with the judge’s dis­missal,” Pro­faci said today. But after the NAOOA filed a notice of appeal, the par­ties reached an ami­ca­ble set­tle­ment. Dr. Oz is com­mit­ted to our cause of pro­tect­ing con­sumers from fraud — includ­ing decep­tive mis­in­for­ma­tion — and we are grate­ful for that.”

In Decem­ber last year, the group filed a law­suit against the Cal­i­for­nia-based, spe­cialty store dis­trib­u­tor Veron­ica Foods for what it called false, mis­lead­ing and sci­en­tif­i­cally unsub­stan­ti­ated state­ments about olive oil sold in super­mar­kets, claim­ing it lacks the health ben­e­fits con­sumers expect.” That case is ongo­ing and Pro­faci declined to com­ment on the pro­ceed­ings.

Pro­faci described the asso­ci­a­tion’s key issues in his report to the AFI: There are three main branches in our olive oil strat­egy: defend against attacks; sci­ence and stan­dards; and com­mu­ni­ca­tions. It is clear that the fake news’ epi­demic in the United States is not lim­ited to those seek­ing to gain polit­i­cal advan­tages.”

The good thing is that peo­ple are truly pas­sion­ate about olive oil,” he noted. The chal­lenge is mak­ing sure that they are well enough informed to know if they are being mis­led, whether it be in a click­bait fake news post­ing on Face­book or on a prod­uct label.”

The group has engaged in lob­by­ing ini­tia­tives on issues such as Farm Bill leg­is­la­tion and qual­ity test­ing pro­grams. The NAOOA began work­ing closely with Wash­ing­ton D.C. con­sul­tants to help us edu­cate law­mak­ers about the cur­rent state of affairs. As a result of those efforts, the draft Sen­ate Agri­cul­tural Com­mit­tee appro­pri­a­tions report included lan­guage that the FDA should con­duct test­ing of all prod­ucts (and not just imports),” Pro­faci wrote.

The pro­tec­tion­ist dis­course of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has also served as a call to action for the trade group accord­ing to Pro­faci, who said, We must remain vig­i­lant of obsta­cles that might be erected in light of anti-trade rhetoric of the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, both in terms of import reg­u­la­tions and tax pol­icy.”

Pro­faci served as the NAOOA chair until June 2017, accord­ing to a press state­ment pro­vided to Olive Oil Times. Media were invited to con­tact Greg Drescher at the Culi­nary Insti­tute of Amer­ica (CIA) as a ref­er­ence on Pro­faci.

In 1991, Colavita USA donated $2 mil­lion to the Culi­nary Insti­tute in exchange for the nam­ing rights to a new cam­pus build­ing, the Colavita Cen­ter for Ital­ian Food and Wine. In 2010, John J. Pro­faci was inducted into the CIA Hall of Fame.

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