Part of our continuing special coverage of the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.
Portuguese olive oil producers took home 38 awards at the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, six more than the previous year and four short of their record-high in 2019.
The success came despite the fact that many olive growers entered an off-year — the cyclical downturn in production that follows a bumper harvest. Portuguese production reached 100,000 tons in the 2020/21 crop year, down from the record harvest in 2019/20 in which the Iberian country produced 140,500 tons.
For us, it’s very special to win any award in New York because one of the reasons that made us decide to really bet on selling our olive oil under our own brand was that first Gold Award Olmais won back in 2016.
However, the decline in production did not impact quality, with 95 percent of the oil produced expected to meet virgin and extra virgin olive oil standards.
However, the high-density growers that use machines were largely unaffected by labor shortages at harvest time, but exports and domestic sales slumped from two lockdowns that forced the restaurant and hospitality sectors to close.See Also: The Best Olive Oils from Portugal
While there was a slight increase in household consumption, this mostly benefited larger producers, although some smaller producers still reported positive growth.
Sovena is among the Portuguese producers that have enjoyed continued success at the world’s most prestigious olive oil quality competition over the past three years.
“For Sovena, and for the Oliveira da Serra brand, it is a great honor to be awarded three Gold Awards,” a spokesperson told Olive Oil Times. Sovena’s focus on quality and the preservation of nature along with sustainable development is key to the company’s success, he added.
“But our success is also linked to our people who, every day, seek to make the best olive oil in the world, choosing the best olives, selecting the best batches and responding to the needs and preferences of consumers,” the spokesperson said.
“It is a wonderful feeling [to win] year after year,” António Duarte, a sales representative for the company, told Olive Oil Times. “The recognition of all the hard work we put into producing our oils and generates interest from clients also.”
“One of the oils is made from a regional olive variety, Maçanilha de Tavira, and we combine a traditional production method with modern technology to produce our oils,” he added.
However, Duarte said success for the company did not come without its difficulties.
“Last year in Portugal was a year with very low yields and unusual climate conditions,” he said. “One day, it was still early, and three days after, it was already a bit late. The ripening of the fruit happened very quickly and we needed to be very careful when deciding when to harvest.”
The Covid-19 pandemic also provided plenty of challenges for Monterosa, as the country’s two lockdowns took their toll on the hospitality sector.
“Being in a Mediterranean country where the consumption of olive oil per person is high, the impact, fortunately, was not as severe as with other activity sectors like tourism,” Duarte said. “But we all had difficulty selling our products because restaurants and hotels had to close down during two lockdowns, so that made a big impact still.”
Bare Foods also felt the impact of the pandemic, and Rui Abecassis, the company’s co-owner, told Olive Oil Times they had to deal with “paper shortages and printer delays, sky-high transportation costs, and a disfavorable exchange rate.”
However, they could still produce high-quality oil, and their Bare Superior brand has won Gold three years in a row at the NYIOOC, including in 2021.
The producers said their NYIOOC record helps gain attention and reminds customers they are producing some of the world’s best extra virgin olive oil.
Moreover, the Bare brand is readily available in the United States.
“You see plenty of imported extra virgin olive oils in the U.S. but very few from Portugal,” Abecassis said. “Bare extra virgin olive oil and Bare Superior are in approximately 500 retail locations across the U.S., which makes it the best distributed Portuguese extra virgin olive oil in the U.S.”
“It is a pleasure to participate in such a highly recognized contest,” owner Aníbal Soares said. “We are extremely proud of our brand… It adds to the company’s name and continued growth and demonstrates the quality of our products.”
“The main factors that differentiate our olive oil is the fact that it is an extra virgin ‘Azeite de Quinta’ from centenary olive groves, a traditional, non-intensive and non-irrigated culture,” he added. “Hillside schist soils and freshly harvested olives by hand, in a state of correct maturation, give rise to this pure juice.”
Segredos do Côa faced plenty of challenges relating to the climate in 2020, especially as their olive groves are organic and hand-harvested. The Covid-19 pandemic also hurt the company’s ability to market its products.
“As we all know, the pandemic affected everyone in general,” Soares said. “Our concept in particular – Farm-to-Table – has affected our sales, as restaurants and hotels in Portugal were practically closed for about 10 months.”
Situated not too far to the northeast of Duoro, Quinta dos Olmais is owned by the Gomes Alves family, and their organic extra virgin olive oil has won two Gold and two Silver Awards since entering the competition in 2016.
This year, the Trás-os-Montes-based producer earned a Silver Award for its organic medium Cobrancosa.
“For us, it’s very special to win any award in New York because one of the reasons that made us decide to really bet on selling our olive oil under our own brand was that first Gold Award Olmais won back in 2016,” co-owner Julio Alves told Olive Oil Times. “That win was our very first one and motivated us beyond anything else; it really pointed us the way.”
Alves said that what sets Quinta dos Olmais apart is the oil’s fresh and balanced green floral profile, which, along with its mild bitterness and pungency, makes it “the perfect gastronomic olive oil.”
He added that the company’s backstory also helps the brand to stand out in the competitive market of high-end extra virgin olive oil.
“We started this project back in 2010, recovered some abandoned olive groves, converted them to organic farming, got certified and then in 2016 we started bottling and marketing our olive oil under our own brand,” Alves said. “Two years ago, our company won the National Agriculture Award.”
The biggest challenges Quinta dos Olmais faced last year were due to the pandemic and difficult climatic conditions. The producers had a chronic lack of workforce, and sales to the hospitality and restaurant sectors took a hit, coupled with another dry year.
However, olive fruit fly attacks were fewer, and despite the issues, 2021 looks to be a promising year for the producers.
“With a lot of work and amazing distributors, we recovered from that blow and ended the year with positive growth,” Alves said.