`Portugal's Experience Banning Olive Oil Cruets in Restaurants - Olive Oil Times

Portugal's Experience Banning Olive Oil Cruets in Restaurants

By Julie Butler
Jan. 17, 2013 08:45 UTC

The European Commission is con­sid­er­ing ban­ning olive oil cruets from restau­rant tables and requir­ing that only tam­per-proof, non-refill­able bot­tles be used.

Portugal intro­duced such a law in 2005, Italy has just decided to fol­low suit and Spain says it will, too.

Olive Oil Times spoke to Mariana Matos, General Secretary of the Casa do Azeite, Portugal’s Olive Oil Association, about her country’s expe­ri­ence with this change.

What has been the impact, if any, on Portugal’s olive oil sec­tor?

It has been very impor­tant for the image of olive oil. In the past I often had my meal ruined by inad­ver­tently using really bad olive oil, until I stopped using the olive oil served in cer­tain restau­rants.

That kind of thing is very bad for olive oil’s image because it dri­ves away con­sumers from what is a really good prod­uct and, from our point of view, it can only be pre­vented with this kind of leg­is­la­tion.

Another pos­i­tive impact is that it opened up a new way of rais­ing brand aware­ness. Brands have invested heav­ily in the design of their own cruets and now offer a range of olive oils, and also vine­gar, in them. This main­tains the tra­di­tion of hav­ing these items on the table to sea­son food, but now accom­pa­nied by appro­pri­ate con­sumer infor­ma­tion, such as the grade of the olive oil (extra vir­gin, vir­gin, etc.), its best-before date and ori­gin.

All this is very impor­tant and teaches con­sumers to be more dis­cern­ing.

Has there been any change in olive oil con­sump­tion in Portugal?

Yes, con­sump­tion of olive oil, espe­cially extra vir­gin, has greatly increased, though not only due to this law. Five years ago, per capita con­sump­tion was about 6kg/year and now it’s more than 8kg/year, and ris­ing.

Does non-refill­able pack­ag­ing increase envi­ron­men­tal waste?

Well, the same applies to many prod­ucts, and no one would con­sider return­ing to buy­ing all their prod­ucts in bulk. Furthermore, glass is mainly used and is cheaper and more effi­cient to recy­cle than other mate­ri­als.

Companies have designed their own branded cruets, usu­ally 250ml. This is the most suit­able size as the bot­tle is not open too long, which would cause harm­ful oxi­da­tion reduc­ing the olive oil qual­ity, par­tic­u­larly in warm con­di­tions, which is some­times the case in restau­rants.

Does the law apply to all olive oil used in the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor?

No, only to olive oils placed on tables for peo­ple to sea­son their food. It doesn’t apply to restau­rant kitchens where olive oil is used in meal prepa­ra­tion and pack­ag­ing of up to 25l is allowed in Portugal.

What has been the feed­back from restau­rants?

Most of the restau­rants that want to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves accord­ing to qual­ity and care with ingre­di­ents have wel­comed it but any time an estab­lished prac­tice is banned there is always some oppo­si­tion.

The prob­lems we cur­rently have in Portugal are with the inspec­tion author­i­ties, who fail to effec­tively enforce the law.

What have you done to sup­port the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor?

We’ve held hun­dreds of train­ing events with restau­rant own­ers, chefs and wait­ing staff to equip them with infor­ma­tion about the prod­uct and the ben­e­fits of the new rules.

In such train­ing we sug­gest restau­rants treat olive oil a bit like wine. We encour­age them to offer olive oil menus (like wine lists) so con­sumers can choose between dif­fer­ent olive oils, from var­i­ous regions and olive vari­eties.

That’s only pos­si­ble if you have olive oil that’s appro­pri­ately bot­tled and labeled and with caps that pre­vent refill­ing, thus ensur­ing that what’s inside the bot­tle is the orig­i­nal con­tent and has not been blended with any other oil. The lat­ter can be a very tempt­ing prac­tice for restau­rants but is very detri­men­tal to the olive oil qual­ity.

What’s your advice to coun­tries con­sid­er­ing a sim­i­lar law?

That they seek the sup­port of the restau­rant and hos­pi­tal­ity indus­try and clearly explain the ben­e­fits and dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion that can result. Also, espe­cially in the early stages, rather than a polic­ing role, inspec­tion author­i­ties should play an edu­ca­tional one.

Are increased costs inevitable?

In Portugal, the entry into force of the law coin­cided with a sig­nif­i­cant fall in ex-mill prices, so actu­ally the cost went down.

But accord­ing to our data, the change would result in an increased cost of about €0.05 for a 250ml bot­tle, mainly due to the cost dif­fer­ence between nor­mal and non-refill­able caps.

A 250ml bot­tle can serve about 10 peo­ple, which means an increased cost of about €0.005 per per­son for an aver­age meal.

That seems to us very rea­son­able given all the advan­tages, such as in food hygiene and safety, higher qual­ity, and con­sumer respect.

But with ex-mill prices now ris­ing, should the law be passed, it would prob­a­bly be unfairly blamed…

(A pro­posal on use of non-refill­able bot­tles (one-way pack­ag­ing) in the HORECA (hotel, restau­rant and cater­ing) sec­tor was on the agenda for the January 16 meet­ing of the EC’s Management Committee for the Common Organisation of Agricultural Markets.)


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