The Specialty Food Association held its Summer Fancy Food Show from Sunday, June 25th to Tuesday, June 27th at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. Established in 1952, the Association calls itself “a thriving community of food artisans, purveyors, importers and entrepreneurs who bring craft, care and joy to the distinctive foods they sell.”
The annual summer show comprises North America’s most extensive specialty food and beverage event, connecting consumers and vendors with over 180,000 product offerings from 2,400 exhibitors hailing from 50 countries and regions, according to its organizers. This year, the exhibitor catalog listed roughly 270 companies at the event who were offering olive oil.
The general atmosphere among these olive oil exhibitors proved upbeat and optimistic for the industry’s continued potential. Some, like Thomas Sheridan of DiAlfredo Foods, came to the show for their first time with the intention of establishing new business connections, especially with retail outlets that claim a large portfolio of regional stores.
Others, such as representatives from the Argentina Olive Group, hoped to continue promoting their countries’ flourishing production capabilities. Julian Clusellas was able to boast that his farms have increased harvest yields from the previous year’s four million kilos to this year’s fifteen million.
While Clusellas explained that he plans to sell most of this harvest in bulk to the United States, where buyers have found his quality and pricing competitive, he said he also sells about 50,000 liters each year under the brand Valle de la Puerta domestically in Argentina and to markets in Western China. Argentinian representative Francisco Gobbee further elaborated that Argentina has ample natural resources to expand its output, ranging from more land to irrigation capabilities.
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An array of producers from Tunisia were represented at the show to continue promoting their country’s commitment to bottling EVOO of an increasingly high caliber.
Representatives from the California Olive Oil Council turned their gaze toward promoting education to help build a market of more educated consumers in the United States. They stated that demand is rising, and in order to capitalize on this trend, the organization is working on a variety of consumer events. Membership in the council is also increasing, which the organization intends to parlay into a partnership with the highly successful “California Grown” coalition.
Executive Director Patricia Darragh noted that California growers are succeeding in meeting an increasing demand thanks to advancement in farming technologies, which have allowed olive trees to begin yielding substantial crops in as little as two years from planting. Darragh explained that she would like to see more plantings, even as she acknowledged the trend among larger producers who have taken to augmenting their growing but limited output with imports to satisfy domestic needs. Currently, California produces approximately four million gallons of olive oil annually.
Dewey Lucero, owner of the California olive oil brand Wild Groves, embodies the success that California companies have enjoyed in recent years. Originally from Corning, California, Lucero began his first olive oil company with a $50,000 loan from his parents in 2005. After partnering with a larger company, he was soon able to sell his stake and begin a new solo operation, along with some of the growers from his original project. Throughout the process, he learned the importance of connecting with consumers, staying realistic and being patient.
Though every olive oil exhibitor extolled their genuine belief in the olive oil industry’s future, many echoed the same concerns. There was hope for a reform in labeling practices, which currently require bottles to show their contents’ countries of origin but do not provide any method for describing the proportions. Many cited consumer education as a means of abetting this issue until further regulations are put in place.
Producers like Brenda and Nick Wilkinson of the South African olive oil brand Rio Largo lauded the convention for bringing together a broad group of olive oil companies that stood apart for their “authenticity” and devotion to their products.