`South Africa’s New Gold Standard - Olive Oil Times

South Africa’s New Gold Standard

By Omeros Demetriou
Jul. 31, 2012 16:20 UTC

South Africa’s olive oil indus­try is rel­a­tively young com­pared to European coun­tries that have been pro­duc­ing olive oil for hun­dreds of years. Despite the late entry how­ever, South African olive oils com­pare favor­ably with some of the best in the world with sev­eral local pro­duc­ers recently tak­ing top hon­ors at inter­na­tional olive oil com­pe­ti­tions.

As these olive oils con­tinue to attract the atten­tion they deserve abroad, the para­dox for South Africa remains that the local demand is dom­i­nated by imports (80% of all olive oil con­sumed is imported). In an inter­na­tional indus­try fraught with cheap and imi­ta­tion oils that have been mis­la­beled and even sub­jected to chem­i­cal manip­u­la­tion, there are sig­nif­i­cant impli­ca­tions for the South African con­sumer where the local mar­ket is entirely self-reg­u­lated.

SA Olive (SAO), the vol­un­tary asso­ci­a­tion rep­re­sent­ing the country’s olive indus­try, ini­ti­ated a com­pre­hen­sive mar­ket research study to test and com­pare the qual­ity of local vs. imported extra-vir­gin olive oils. The main pur­pose of the study, which was con­ducted in 2011, was to inform the pub­lic about the true qual­ity of avail­able olive oils in South Africa.

Using para­me­ters and tech­nol­ogy devel­oped by the International Olive Council (IOC), the study revealed that none of the local oils showed any sign of being sub­stan­dard, whereas 26 per­cent of imported oils were falsely labeled as extra vir­gin. Several importers were exposed for pass­ing off infe­rior olive oils as vir­gin.

The qual­ity test­ing of olive oil is espe­cially rel­e­vant as there are no reg­u­la­tions or leg­is­la­tion cur­rently gov­ern­ing olive oil imports into South Africa. It is there­fore impor­tant that con­sumers can dis­tin­guish the qual­ity between the vari­eties and brands of olive oil on offer.

The Commitment To Compliance (CTC) scheme, an ini­tia­tive from SA Olive, was devel­oped to aid con­sumers with this deci­sion. The CTC seal of approval indi­cates that the oil is 100 per­cent South African and that the pro­ducer is com­mit­ted to truth­ful labelling and com­plies with the stan­dards of the SA Olive Codes of Practice, which are based on inter­na­tional qual­ity stan­dards. The seal also dis­plays the year of har­vest which indi­cates the fresh­ness of the oil.

Another mis­guided facet of the cur­rent olive oil indus­try in South Africa con­cerns that of price. There is a com­mon per­cep­tion among con­sumers that top-end olive oils often fetch top-end prices. However, the study by SA Olive proved oth­er­wise. It showed that the aver­age price of all olive oils tested was R62.68 ($7.66) for 500ml. The aver­age price for those oils which can be truth­fully clas­si­fied as extra-vir­gin was R65.19 ($7.96), for the same vol­ume. This is a small dif­fer­ence to pay for some of the best olive oils in the world.

One area where price does become a mat­ter of con­cern for South African farm­ers and pro­duc­ers relates to the cost of imported olive oils. European farm­ers receive mil­lions of Euros each year in order to sub­sidise their prices and keep the indus­try com­pet­i­tive in export mar­kets. The result is that imported oils, such as those from Italy or Spain, often carry higher mar­gins than locally pro­duced olive oils which do not ben­e­fit from any sub­si­dies.

In the absence of reg­u­la­tions to con­trol both the price and qual­ity of imports, the study by SA Olive empha­sizes the impor­tance of inform­ing the con­sumer about the ben­e­fits of choos­ing local olive oils.

From har­vest­ing to pro­duc­tion, the labour-inten­sive nature of the indus­try guar­an­tees employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties for thou­sands of South Africans every year. Another advan­tage South African pro­duc­ers have is lat­i­tude. They press their oils in the European off-sea­son, when oil is scarce and north­ern demand for fresh-from-the-mill fla­vor’ is high. South Africans should be just as proud of their olive oils as they are of their fine wines. Educating the pub­lic is the key to reduc­ing the depen­dency on imports and ensur­ing that the poten­tial of this liq­uid gold is shared with all South Africans.


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