`Chinese Consumers Confused by Olive Oil Choices - Olive Oil Times

Chinese Consumers Confused by Olive Oil Choices

Jun. 27, 2010
Peijin Chen

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Olive oil reduces aging, is a front line dietary defense again the rav­ages of heart dis­ease – and tastes great to boot. That’s quite a rep­u­ta­tion to live up to, which leaves the aver­age Chinese con­sumer in a bit of a bind. The bewil­der­ing array of choices and con­fus­ing mar­ket­ing mes­sages leave many Chinese con­sumers con­fused about what to buy.

Simply put, the prob­lem is that a mix­ture of overzeal­ous mar­ket­ing and bizarre pric­ing makes it hard for the unini­ti­ated to sep­a­rate the wheat from the chaff. Every brand of olive oil will boast about how healthy it is, how high in unsat­u­rated fats, how pure, how high-qual­ity. But of course, that’s adver­tis­ing for you. How about using the num­bers to dis­tin­guish what’s good
and what’s not? Well, that might work if you could actu­ally find – and then believe – the num­bers. Chinese reports on the mat­ter
say that the label­ing on most olive oil is con­fus­ing and hard to under­stand for the aver­age con­sumer.

Everyone wants fresh olive oil, right? So take a look at the date of pro­duc­tion, which should be stamped some­where on the label – except you’re not sure if the date you’re read­ing is the date that the olives were squeezed and pressed in (fill in coun­try here) or if this is the date the whole thing was pack­aged in China. Same with the use-by date and other crit­i­cal pieces of infor­ma­tion. In October 2009, China laid down some laws and stan­dards for olive oil and the pack­ag­ing thereof – but what this Chinese jour­nal­ist finds on shelves still leaves a lot to be desired.

But you pay for what you get, right? Well, you’d like to think so, but what can jus­tify the dif­fer­ence between a 1‑liter bot­tle of Italian vir­gin olive oil that costs 200 yuan (about US$29.40) and the 2.5 liter olive-plus-sun­flower oil that costs less than 20 yuan (US$2.94)? It seems that hav­ing even a lit­tle olive in it makes cer­tain cook­ing oils more expen­sive than those that don’t. If olives are the magic ingre­di­ent that account for the price dif­fer­ences, you might be able to imag­ine why the price of the pre­mium stuff is so dear. In other words, this is what mar­ket­ing does best – inflate the prices all around – but whether or not that’s the best for the con­sumer is another issue.

Some Chinese reports give advice about how to pick and choose oil. Look at the translu­cency of the oil, they say. Does it look thick or thin? Is the color too dark or too light? Stick with the good brands, they say. More mar­ket­ing, more con­fu­sion.

Of course, most of the good brands are imported, stocked in Carrefour or more upmar­ket gro­ceries cater­ing to expats, who with their higher incomes and Western back­grounds, make for a much dif­fer­ent con­sumer than the aver­age Chinese, who is going to have to do some heavy head-scratch­ing before they can fig­ure it all out and find some­thing they can stick with.

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