Pompeian VP Says Baltimore Bridge Disaster Cost Company Millions

While the company was able to receive its most recent shipment of European olive oil through the port, the measures taken after the disaster were unsustainable in the long run.

(Photo: Associated Press)
By Daniel Dawson
Jun. 5, 2024 20:58 UTC
(Photo: Associated Press)

The col­lapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge on the morn­ing of March 26th has had an esti­mated finan­cial impact of mil­lions of dol­lars on bot­tler and dis­trib­u­tor Pompeian, accord­ing to the company’s vice pres­i­dent of oper­a­tions.

Salim Benjelloun told WJZ News, a CBS affil­i­ate, that a ship­ment of nearly 5.3 mil­lion liters of olive oil, sched­uled to arrive on March 27th, had to be rerouted.

We needed 300,000 gal­lons (1.13 mil­lion liters) to be dis­charged sooner rather than later so that the qual­ity of our prod­uct would not be impacted, our employ­ees would be pro­tected and oper­a­tions would not be inter­rupted,” Benjelloun said.

See Also:US Surpasses Spain as Second-Largest Olive Oil Consumer

While some of the olive oil was offloaded at a sec­tion of the port that was not impacted by the bridge col­lapse, the rest had to be rerouted to the port of New York and brought down to the Baltimore facil­ity in trucks, a 310-kilo­me­ter jour­ney that takes more than three hours and added con­sid­er­able expense.

We’re talk­ing mil­lions of dol­lars; we’re not talk­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands in terms of finan­cial impacts,” Benjelloun said.

Pompeian, based in Baltimore for over 100 years, is the largest olive oil bot­tler in the United States. The com­pany imports olive oil from nine coun­tries and pro­duces olive oil from 425 hectares of groves in California. However, the lion’s share comes from the Mediterranean.

We are the num­ber one brand of olive oil with over 21 per­cent mar­ket share in the United States,” Mouna Aissaoui, Pompeian’s exec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and chief oper­at­ing offi­cer, told WYPR.

We have always con­sid­ered the port of Baltimore an exten­sion of our oper­a­tions and a strong asset for us,” she added. We bring olive oil from around the world through the port of Baltimore in ship­ping con­tain­ers… Then we bring the oil to our fac­tory, where it is fil­tered, blended and bot­tled to be dis­trib­uted through­out the United States.”

Before the col­lapse, caused by a cargo ship col­lid­ing with the bridge, the port of Baltimore was one of the top 20 ports in the U.S. In 2023, an esti­mated $73 mil­lion of oilseeds, includ­ing olive oil, passed through the port.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the coun­try imported 360,700 tons of olive oil worth $2.2 bil­lion in 2023.

Some por­tions of the main port have reopened to larger ships, and Pompeian suc­cess­fully imported a ship­ment from the most recent har­vest in Europe. The port will not return to full capac­ity until mid-June.

We fully and heav­ily rely on the port of Baltimore. We’re in Baltimore because of the port,” Benjelloun said. With every­thing that hap­pened in the port of Baltimore, we’re not back­ing away from that. If any­thing, we’ve seen that in a worst-case sce­nario, we were still able to man­age.”

However, Aissaoui con­firmed that the com­pa­ny’s strat­egy, while effec­tive, was finan­cially unsus­tain­able over the long term.

The amount of money we were invest­ing [in the solu­tions that we put in place] was not some­thing we could do for a con­tin­u­ous amount of time,” she said.

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