The organizers of the first World Bulk Oil Exhibition (WBOE) – to be held in Madrid on April 12 and 13 – hope it will help dispel a widespread belief that bottled olive oil is always better than bulk.

Santiago Botas, managing director of the event, told EFEAGRO that these days many bulk producers aim to deliver quality, particularly in niche markets such as that for organic olive oil. And in the United States, there is a trend towards trade in ‘branded’ bulk oil.

However, as is also the case in the pre-packaged market, bulk producers are plagued by poor prices. Botas says potential ways to add value in the bulk sector include differentiation according to olive variety (such as arbequina or picual), the “terroir” (as in the wine sector), features of the production process, and the organoleptic or physicochemical qualities of the bulk product.

Why focus on bulk?

The edible oil exhibition follows in the wake of the successful World Bulk Wine Exhbition (WBWE), the fourth edition of which will be held in Amsterdam from December 19-20. Both are organized by Spanish company Pomona Keepers, which says the WBWE “fueled a real revolution in the bulk wine sector” and lifted the veil on a market that had been very much veiled in secrecy. Bulk accounts for about a third of international trade in wine.

Meanwhile, the oil version is marketed as born of the need to create a meeting place for international bulk traders of culinary oils, and as a showcase of the quality and variety of the bulk oil sector.

Its objectives include helping improve the profitability of edible oils sold in bulk, bringing together producers and end purchasers from all the major world markets, achieving a better and more efficient supply chain, and opening up new markets for bulk oil.

Although covering all edible oils, the first edition will focus on olive oil, says Botas.

World bulk trade

According to the WBOE dossier, Spain is by far the world’s main supplier of bulk edible oil but the other key producers are Greece, Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, Turkey and Argentina.

“Italy is the world’s largest buyer. Imports make up their domestic market deficit and are also re‐exported as bottled oil to the rest of the world,” the dossier says. France and Portugal are other big buyers.

According to International Olive Council data, bulk accounts for a third of olive oil imports in the United States – the biggest non-EU buyer of olive oil.

EFEAGRO recently reported that of Spanish olive oil imported in 2011 by China – on the verge of replacing the U.S. as the main non-EU buyer of Spanish olive oil – about 30 percent was in bulk.

It says Spain’s main bulk olive oil companies are Hojiblanca, Acesur, Migasa, Oleoestepa, Jaencoop and Borges. Other leading operators are Portugal’s Sovena, Bunge and Cargill in North America, the Italians Pietro Coriccelli, Monini and Farchioni, and the Japanese trader Itochu.

Although most of Spain’s olive oil exports are still in bulk, trade in packaged oil – in containers of less than 5 liters usually marketed directly to consumers, restaurants, and gourmet shops – has doubled in the last five years and the upward trend continues.

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