On the second day of the New York International Olive Oil Competition, attendees were treated to impassioned presenters who urged them to recognize education as a cornerstone for growth and success in the olive oil industry.
“America is at Level One”
The day started off with a spark by the name of Steven Jenkins, the inimitable olive oil and cheese specialist for Fairway Market. Jenkins candidly expressed his concern over American consumers’ lack of knowledge when it comes to purchasing olive oils. He said individuals in the United States typically choose their oils based on the style of the bottle and the look of the label, which he called “preposterous.” He emphasized that consumers needed to be aware of the olive oil’s region, sub-region, date of harvest and cultivar to make informed decisions and he pointed out the value of the signage he has crafted for his stores to educate consumers.
Jenkins also spoke to the misconceptions surrounding what olive oil is actually supposed to taste like. “Olive oil is not a food; it is a crucial ingredient in your life. The great olive oils of the world are meant to electrify the food that you eat. They should be a little peppery or even bitter.”
Showing Consumers What Great Olive Oils Taste Like
Gregg Kelley, president and CEO of California Olive Ranch, led his session by detailing statistics on olive oil consumption in the United States. He noted that American consumption of olive oil per capita considerably lags behind that of other countries and that it should and could be three times its current level. Going on to share his company’s “secret ingredients” for taking on challenges, Kelley highlighted education as critical. “We have to introduce people to quality.” He cited advances in the American wine, chocolate and coffee industries as illustrative examples of how education and quality products can help create demand for specialty, premium versions of goods for which only humdrum, generic options once existed. Kelley suggested actionable ideas for olive oil companies to utilize to engage potential customers, including tasting events, working directly with producers and other intermediaries, and training buyers and retailers.
Freshness: An Accessible Way for Assessing Quality
Dan Flynn, Director at the UC Davis Olive Center, offered this theme to consider when teaching processors and consumers to understand what makes an olive oil high-quality: freshness. He noted that consumers buy olive oil for two main reasons, flavor and health, both which decline with time. Flynn gave explanations of evaluative standards along with quality and authenticity tests with regard to processing, sensory analysis and chemistry profile, useful to anyone who manages olive oil at any point along the supply chain. He provided insights on why these parameters do not always correlate well nor do they necessarily have linear relationships with price. He also proposed ideas for procuring fresher oils considering these same elements of processing, sensory evaluation and chemistry considerations.
On the final day of 2014 NYIOOC, attendees will have the opportunity to experience an exclusive tasting of olive oils in the running for awards prior to the official announcement of competition results by Curtis Cord, president of NYIOOC, International Culinary Center Founder Dorothy Hamilton and Fairway Market’s Steven Jenkins during a press conference that will be broadcast live.
More information can be found on the event website.