Paul Miller comes from a farming background and is an agricultural scientist. Since 2001 Mr. Miller has been President of the Australian Olive Association, the olive industry body of Australia. His special interests within the AOA include trade and quality standards for olive oil, developing better methods of authenticating high quality olive oil and the place of the Australian industry in the global scene. Paul has led the development of the new Australian Extra Virgin branding and authentication education campaign and the industry Code of Practice for Australian olive oil. Recently we asked Mr. Miller about Australia’s emerging status as producer of high quality olive oils.
What is Australian Olive Oil known for? What is Australia’s reputation in the global Olive Oil market?
Australian olive oil is known for its fresh and fruity taste. The reputation is good on the global market because it is only Extra Virgin olive oil that is sold around the world from Australia and the generally fruity taste profile is very user friendly for consumers in both new and traditional markets.
If 95% of Australian Olive Oil is extra virgin does that mean Australian olive oil is a premium brand?
Not really – what it means is that our product is made well and we don’t have to deal with the large quantity of lower grade oils that are produced in more traditional producer countries. It may develop into a premium brand based on its inherent authenticity and quality coming from such a good production base.
What will be the 2010 harvest and what regions in Australia produce it? Has “Olive Oil Tourism” started in Australia and if so, where should people visit?
The 2010 harvest is predicted at about 18 million litres. Olive oil is produced in all the temperate agricultural regions of Australia – south east Western Australia. South east South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales and southern Queensland. Olive oil tourism is beginning in production regions that are also famous for wines – for example Hunter Valley NSW, Tasmania, north east Victoria, Barossa and other wine regions in SA, Margaret River WA. It is also becoming a feature on some major tourist road routes.
Australia has a rich migrant history of Mediterraneans. How has this contributed to the olive oil being produced and what is key difference in the olive oils marketed oil from Australia and the Mediterranean?
Olive oil has been in Australian food since European migration began but its rise to prominence has come about since around 1980 when promotion of different diets and cooking styles became popular. In particular since the mid 1990s there have been many ‘Mediterranean’ chefs on television and other media. At the same time general interest in healthier foods led to focus on natural products like olive oil. So the long Mediterranean heritage in Australia probably ‘primed’ the market but the expansion in consumption has happened relatively recently. Oil from Australia is fresh and fruity. Oil imported from the Mediterranean has generally been of lesser quality – there is a perception that they (the Mediterraneans) keep the good stuff at home.
Can you please explain the new Code of Practice and its objective?
The AOA introduced the Code of Practice to better support quality, authenticity and confidence in the Australian olive industry. The Code is to ensure honesty, integrity and authenticity in the labeling of Australian extra virgin olive oil. To be certified by the Code of Practice, products must be Australian and undergo organoleptic (taste) and chemical testings.
The Code is a world-first in the olive industry and helps differentiate quality Australian product from imports. Only Australian olive growers who sign up to the Code can display the symbol on their bottles of extra virgin olive oil. There is no refined oil present whatsoever in a bottle of Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil displaying this symbol. Every harvest is laboratory tested to ensure the highest level of certification is maintained. Extra virgin olive oils must have free fatty acid levels less than 0.8% and a peroxide value under 20. There are currently 87 signatories to the AOA’s Code of Practice.
ALDI Australia has become the first grocery retailer to sign up to the Code of Practice. This means that all extra virgin olive oil for sale by ALDI supermarkets in Australia must meet the testing criteria set out in the Code of Practice.
How is Australia’s Olive Oil industry looking in the future? What achievements are you striving for?
The industry has slowed its expansion of planting trees – we expect a further expansion once some current advances in production technology have come in to commercial use and also as markets such as Asian markets develop further. It is our aim that as Australia could doubles its current production from exiting tree – to rise about 1% of global olive oil production – that it will become a preferred supplier of reliable authentic and user friendly Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
How do technological advances in production play a part in Australia’s growing industry?
The Australian olive industry is a world leader with regard to efficient olive harvesting. In addition our irrigation practices utilise local and global technology to necessarily conserve water. Australia is also at the leading edge with regard to the application of chemistry to verify the authenticity of olive oil and its consumer related quality. This underpins the reputation for reliable user friendly, fresh, and fruity extra virgin olive oils.
To what extent does the fact that there are only so many Southern Hemisphere producing regions help exports?
I don’t think this helps much at all. Few buyers recognize regionality and of those that do, very few are concerned with hemisphere. It may be significant in the future that the production seasons of each hemisphere are six months apart and so the very freshest oils available from, say, May to November come from the southern hemisphere.