Business

U.S. Olive Oil Imports Are Increasingly in Bulk

Import trends suggest a dramatic change in the ways olive oil reaches American end users and the successful transition by Spain and others toward marketing their national brands to foreign buyers.

Freighter off Valencia, Spain
Jan. 5, 2017
By Olive Oil Times Staff
Freighter off Valencia, Spain

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Ten years ago, a mere 16 per­cent of the 113,000 tons of olive oil imported to the United States was in bulk con­tain­ers. This past year, more than 42 per­cent of the 331,368 tons of imports were in bulk, defined as full con­tain­ers weigh­ing more than 18 kg (39.7 Lbs).

The fig­ures, released today by the International Olive Council (IOC), reflect the rising pop­u­lar­ity of olive oil and an ongo­ing change in the way the world’s largest market is deal­ing in the com­mod­ity.

Bulk con­tainer imports are des­tined for U.S. bot­tlers of pri­vate label and mass-market brands, food­ser­vice sup­pli­ers, and even domes­tic pro­duc­ers who sup­ple­ment their lim­ited inven­to­ries with the abun­dant supply from Europe and North Africa, and espe­cially Spain. For exam­ple, Veronica Foods, the California dis­trib­u­tor of hun­dreds of spe­cialty stores around the coun­try imports and ships to its retail­ers in bulk con­tain­ers, and California Olive Ranch, the largest American olive oil pro­ducer has also begun import­ing oils from abroad to com­ple­ment its range of home-grown prod­ucts.

Spain accounted for 62 per­cent of bulk imports last year, while Italy’s share of the surg­ing large con­tainer market was just 4 per­cent. Tunisian olive oil rep­re­sented 14 per­cent, Morocco pro­duced 7 per­cent and Argentina and Chile sup­plied 5 per­cent and 3 per­cent of the bulk imports respec­tively.

Meanwhile, Italy is not the pow­er­house it once was for smaller con­tain­ers either. Ten years ago, Italy accounted for two-thirds of olive oil imported in bot­tles and tins; today its market share in the cat­e­gory has slipped to one-third.

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Spain, which sup­plied just 9 per­cent of the small con­tainer market ten years ago now accounts for 25 per­cent, accord­ing to the IOC fig­ures. Other coun­tries creep­ing in on the seg­ment once dom­i­nated by Italy include Tunisia and Greece.

The data sug­gests a dra­matic change in the way olive oil reaches American end users and the suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion by Spain, the world’s largest olive oil pro­ducer, and to a lesser degree Tunisia, from ship­ping their yields to Italy to be blended and repack­aged as Italian olive oil, toward mar­ket­ing their own national brands to for­eign buyers.

The trends also reflect a grow­ing com­mit­ment to qual­ity among the lead­ing pro­duc­ing coun­tries and per­haps, at least to some degree, the neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity, deserved and oth­er­wise, that the Italian olive oil indus­try has suf­fered in recent years.

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Consumers and food indus­try pro­fes­sional alike are becom­ing increas­ingly aware that olive oil qual­ity tran­scends national bound­aries. Yet with the emer­gence of white-label dis­tri­b­u­tion and pri­vate brands, the onus will increas­ingly fall on domes­tic dis­trib­u­tors and mer­chants to assure the authen­tic­ity of their own branded prod­ucts.