By Lucy Vivante
Olive Oil Times Contributor | Reporting from Rome

ASSITOL, the Association of Italian Oil Industry’s Olive Oil and Pomace Oil Group held its annual meeting today in Rome and the major take away is that the “Made in Italy” campaign is not helping olive oil sales. It’s low sticker prices that are resonating with world consumers. They shared data accumulated between November 2008 through October 2009 and for the 12 months of 2009. The association presented some slightly more encouraging numbers for this year.

Members of the association, who account for the bottling/wholesaling/distribution of 90% of Italian olive oil, reported domestic sales of olive oil (extra-virgin to pomace) were down by 10.6% and export sales were down 9.3%. The depressed numbers were partly attributable to a large ASSITOL member deciding to forego filling out the monthly reports required for monitoring. There were some positive numbers in niche segments such as DOP/IGP, where there was a 14% increase, although this segment is small, accounting for only about 6% of the overall olive oil/pomace oil market monitored by ASSITOL. The first months of this year, as of April, have seen a small increase, over the prior reporting period, in both the domestic and export market. The Italian olive oil export market has increased by 0.3% as opposed to an unnerving 18% increase by Spanish exporters so far this year.

Some other olive oil interest groups, but not ASSITOL, expected that the EU’s new labeling rules with country and region of origin data would increase sales of Italian olive oil. ASSITOL believes that it has only added to productions costs by increasing layers of paperwork and electronic reporting requirements, not just for the EU, but even more onerously to comply with Italian regulations.

Especially sobering numbers were presented regarding Italian exports to the United States. In 2003, 63% of olive oil imported into the United States was Italian made. In 2009, Italian olive oil makes up 56% of the imports. Countries like Spain, Tunisia and other emerging countries have been making inroads into the US market, mainly because their oil is cheaper. Tunisia’s share has been growing most rapidly. In 2009, Tunisian olive oil accounted for 16% of US imports, a striking increase from 7% in 2003.

At the meeting, ASSITOL members unanimously voted for a new President. Mario Ambrosi will replace Leonardo Colavita of the well-known Colavita olive oil brand. Mr. Ambrosi is commercial director of Bunge, Italia. Bunge is a commodities giant and leader in oilseed processing.

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