Even an Abundant Harvest Would Not Ward Off Olive Oil Shortage in Italy

The general director of Assitol blamed an imbalanced market on poor harvests across the Mediterranean and the strategies of large retailers.

By Paolo DeAndreis
May. 30, 2023 17:30 UTC

Producers and offi­cials have warned that Italy may run out of olive oil in the com­ing months.

The country’s rel­a­tively low har­vest and excep­tion­ally poor har­vests in Spain and across much of the Mediterranean have resulted in a severe short­age.

Should Italy report an increase in olive oil pro­duc­tion, return­ing to higher pro­duc­tion lev­els, even then such results will not allow the mar­ket to set­tle, as Spanish yields will still be lower than needed.- Andrea Carrassi , gen­eral direc­tor, Assitol

The uni­fied pub­lic infor­ma­tion sys­tem for the Italian agri­cul­tural mar­ket (SIAN) reported 96,000 tons of olive oil stored in Italy at the end of April,” Andrea Carrassi, gen­eral direc­tor of the Italian Association of the Edible Oil Industry (Assitol), told Olive Oil Times. And monthly sales reach approx­i­mately 11,000 tons on aver­age.”

In this sit­u­a­tion, the math is mer­ci­lessly sim­ple. Given that the new sea­son will start between next October and November, we risk reach­ing that moment with less than 30,000 tons in stock,” Carrassi said. If we were a car, our fuel tank light would already be flash­ing wor­ry­ingly red.”

See Also:Olive Oil Prices Rising Faster than Inflation in Italy

International Olive Council (IOC) fig­ures show that Italy has pro­duced an aver­age of about 275,000 tons of olive oil per annum in the last five years. The aver­age of the pre­vi­ous five years slightly exceeded 345,000 tons.

Progressively lower vol­umes have char­ac­ter­ized the last decade. Since 2009/10, Italian pro­duc­tion has not exceeded 500,000 tons, a yield that used to be eas­ily exceeded almost every sea­son since the turn of the cen­tury.

As an indus­try, we are all well aware of that,” Carrassi said. While Italian qual­ity is glob­ally acknowl­edged as excep­tional, vol­umes have been reduc­ing. The whole pro­duc­tion chain is at work to reverse this trend.”

Assitol’s gen­eral direc­tor said pro­duc­ers are used to cop­ing with alter­nat­ing olive oil yields and stocks from one year to the next.

We do not pro­duce steel bolts; there is no such thing as a given pro­duc­tion vol­ume in agri­cul­ture,” Carrassi said. Agricultural pro­duc­tion changes year after year, and olive oil even more than that, as we have the alter­nate fruit-bear­ing sea­sons.”

International Olive Council

Such an alter­nate trend would be nor­mal,” he added. What is not nor­mal, though, is the drought which affected most of the more rel­e­vant olive oil pro­duc­ing coun­tries in the Mediterranean basin.”

The drought in Spain halved the country’s pro­duc­tion to about 660,000 tons. And it also took its toll on Portuguese pro­duc­tion, widely reduc­ing the over­all avail­abil­ity of olive oil on the national and inter­na­tional mar­kets.

According to Carrassi, con­sid­er­ing the high lev­els of olive oil con­sump­tion in Italy and the high vol­ume of its olive oil exports, such short­ages are cre­at­ing a per­fect storm on the mar­ket.

We are a coun­try where almost 600,000 tons of olive oil are con­sumed annu­ally,” Carrassi said. We export more than 400,000 tons and are now pro­duc­ing a lit­tle more than 200,000 tons. That means that about 80 per­cent of our olive oil needs are cov­ered by imports.”

Carrassi added that the com­ing har­vest will unlikely fix Italy’s olive oil deficit. Lately, in Italy, we are hav­ing even too much rain, as wit­nessed by the tragic floods in Emilia-Romagna,” Carrassi said. But in Spain, it has not rained since February, which is des­tined to impact the new olive oil cam­paign.”

The sce­nario is com­pli­cated by the fact that Tunisia is also expe­ri­enc­ing drought,” he added. In the coun­try, they are now rationing water use dur­ing the night to save a part of it for farm­ers.”

Tunisia is a highly rel­e­vant pro­ducer, with an annual aver­age pro­duc­tion of 228,000 tons in the last five years. A large por­tion of its exports are des­tined for the European Union.


To save the sit­u­a­tion, we would need a sea­son with at least 1.5 mil­lion tons of olive oil pro­duced in Spain. But that is not going to hap­pen,” Carrassi said.

In Italy, we are start­ing a beau­ti­ful flow­er­ing sea­son; grow­ers are report­ing very nice data now,” he added. If tem­per­a­tures do not abruptly change and stay in the sea­sonal aver­age, or even a bit lower, we can nur­ture hopes for a very good sea­son.”

For olive grow­ing, the cam­paign will go even bet­ter should it rain a bit dur­ing sum­mer,” Carrassi con­tin­ued. In this case, the most rel­e­vant chal­lenges would pos­si­bly come up at the end of August, when warm humid­ity could facil­i­tate the spread of the olive fruit fly; we will have to mon­i­tor that.”

Still, accord­ing to Carrassi, Italy’s olive oil pro­duc­tion will not be enough. Should Italy report an increase in olive oil pro­duc­tion, return­ing to higher pro­duc­tion lev­els, even then such results will not allow the mar­ket to set­tle, as Spanish yields will still be lower than needed,” Carrassi said.

Compounding lower yields, Carrassi added that pro­duc­tion costs have risen in recent years. After the Covid-19 pan­demic, we had the hic­cups in the logis­tics chain, and after that, we have the Russian war in Ukraine and the tur­moil in the energy mar­ket,” he said.

Costs have risen on all fronts, with high infla­tion,” Carrassi added. Energy, logis­tics and even glass, with glass pro­duc­ers clos­ing shop because of the energy costs, are increas­ing our costs as olive oil in Italy is mostly sold in glass bot­tles.”

The drought made it all even more chal­leng­ing, more than dou­bling the cost of the raw mate­r­ial on the main inter­na­tional mar­kets,” he con­tin­ued.

In such a com­plex sce­nario, Assitol has directed an appeal to the entire olive oil indus­try to ensure ade­quate avail­abil­ity for Italian con­sumers.

Our main focus is the large retail­ers’ role,” Carrassi said. For years, many of them have used olive oil to entice the inter­est of con­sumers through sig­nif­i­cant dis­counts. They are prone to sell olive oil below cost because once con­sumers enter the shop, retail­ers can recoup such losses with the other items being bought. Olive oil has been, for years, the per­fect bait.”

However, he warned these mar­ket­ing ploys dam­age the image of olive oil as the key­stone ingre­di­ent of the Mediterranean diet.

Selling it below cost under­mines the image of the prod­uct and hits the whole pro­duc­tion chain, start­ing from farm­ers and millers,” he said. On top of that, con­sumers develop the habit of buy­ing dis­counted olive oils, which means they do not look for the many dif­fer­ences among dif­fer­ent olive oils but only go for the cheap­est. The whole con­cept of olive oil diver­sity or qual­ity is lost in the process.”

To the large retail­ers, we are now ask­ing to repo­si­tion the prod­uct and give it the dig­nity it deserves,” Carrassi con­cluded. As olive oil stocks go down, olive oil dis­counts and spe­cial offers should be set aside.”

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