Deoleo, the bottler of the world’s leading olive oil brands, has undergone a string of transformations in recent years to reposition itself in a rapidly changing global olive oil market.
Yes, there’s been some negative press out there. We feel that the only way that the olive oil industry can improve and continue to thrive is in the context of quality.
While the financial crisis in Europe led to slumping consumption in traditional strongholds, retailers have been building up their own private labels at the expense of Deoleo’s flagship Bertolli, Carapelli and Carbonell brands. A relentless stream of media reports and legal challenges over the quality and labeling practices of the biggest olive oil producers, and even tax reforms in Spain have taken a heavy toll on the company, which posted a loss of €179 million in 2016.
After years of bruising setbacks, the company closed plants, reduced its workforce by 18 percent, increased prices and focused on its most profitable brands. It implemented a strategy of purchasing olive oil directly from producers and improving the utilization of its factories. And, it set its sights on the profitable North American market.
Last year, when Pierluigi Rosato replaced Manuel Arroyo as CEO of the Madrid-based multinational, he swiftly removed Armando Islas, the company’s supply chain officer and assumed the role of sourcing himself. And the ethos Rosato has laid down for the 62-year-old company is built on a renewed commitment to quality and adding value.
“We’ve had this shift here at Deoleo,” said the company’s vice president of marketing, Fernando Hererra. “Pierluigi has an extreme edict that goes all the way throughout the entire organization that is committed to high quality,” Hererra told Olive Oil Times publisher Curtis Cord in an interview this week for the ‘On Olive Oil’ podcast.
Three of the company’s limited-edition oils were awarded recently at the New York International Olive Oil Competition. And while the small-batch special blends won’t reach the millions of consumers its core products do, Cord wondered if the mere fact that Deoleo proved it was capable of producing award-winning extra virgin olive oil was yet another sign of the “sea change” he described when more producers than ever were recognized for quality at the New York event.
“Pierluigi has taken it upon himself to procure all of the olive oils. His approach is to meet with the growers, understand the growers and then create the relationships. Not only are we talking to the growers but we’re also talking to what we call the ‘knowers.’ Pierluigi is making all of these, he’s personally making these decisions since he’s come to the helm of Deoleo,” Herrera said.
Now, the company is on the verge of launching the largest promotional campaign in its history in a bid to woo consumers to its brands, and to use more olive oil in general, Herrera said. “This will be the biggest investment that Deoleo has ever made in consumer outreach,” he confirmed, though the company later declined to disclose the amount of the investment. “How can we live beyond the salad, how can we live beyond the little drips — how do we move it to a pour?”
The campaign is slated to launch later this year in the U.S. with the slogan, “the recipe is simple.”
“There’s no point in taking the category down. What we need to do and we take very seriously is our responsibility to communicate to consumers the benefits of olive oil and all the reasons you can use it beyond the salad.”
Of course, the big question is how the company will carry its new ethos through to its core products and ensure that consumers who pay more for a bottle labeled ‘extra virgin’ get what they deserve every time — something the largest olive oil companies have been famously unpredictable at doing.
“Yes, there’s been some negative press out there,” Herrera conceded. “We feel that the only way that the olive oil industry can improve and continue to thrive is in the context of quality. If we have good quality for the consumer, it actually has this kind of great domino effect. For us, it’s something that we’re not walking away from. It’s now actually part of our daily routine.”
Listen to the complete interview here.