Competition Data Offer Insights Into Olive Oil World

Historically poor harvests did not impact quality and the rising popularity of organic production.
OOT Illustration
By Daniel Dawson
Nov. 14, 2023 17:39 UTC

Now that the dust has set­tled on the eleventh edi­tion of the World Olive Oil Competition, it is pos­si­ble to see some trends through the exten­sive sta­tis­tics pub­lished by the con­test orga­niz­ers.

See Also:2023 NYIOOC News and Features

While there are hun­dreds of data points to ana­lyze, sev­eral key themes emerge, point­ing to inter­est­ing direc­tions in the olive oil world.

Despite poor har­vest, a record num­ber of NYIOOC entries and awards

According to pre­lim­i­nary data from the International Olive Council, the 2022/23 crop year was one of the worst in recent mem­ory. Global pro­duc­tion reached just 2.73 mil­lion tons, the low­est total since 2016/17 and about 17 per­cent below the five-year aver­age.

Drought and cli­mate extremes across the west­ern Mediterranean basin were widely blamed for the fall in global pro­duc­tion.

However, lower yields did not seem to have an impact on qual­ity. The num­ber of entries and awards hit record highs at the 2023 NYIOOC. Overall, pro­duc­ers from 30 coun­tries com­bined to earn 850 awards from 1,169 entries.

The tally of win­ning brands far exceeded the pre­vi­ous record set in 2022 of 801, while the num­ber of entries slightly sur­passed the 1,156 in 2021. The 73 per­cent suc­cess rate was also the sec­ond-high­est on record, falling just short of the 74 per­cent rate reached in 2022.

Digging a bit deeper, par­tic­i­pa­tion from Spain did not decline as sig­nif­i­cantly as its steep fall in pro­duc­tion may have sug­gested.

According to offi­cial data, Spain pro­duced 663,000 tons of olive oil in 2022/23, 53 per­cent below the five-year aver­age. However, the num­ber of entries (135) and awards (106) fell far less dra­mat­i­cally than the aver­age of the pre­vi­ous five com­pe­ti­tions, just 9 and 2 per­cent, respec­tively.

The sit­u­a­tion was sim­i­lar with pro­duc­ers from Italy, who also suf­fered a poor har­vest not reflected in the num­ber of entries or awards.

At the 2023 NYIOOC, Italian pro­duc­ers earned 174 awards from 224 entries, the sec­ond-high­est on record after 2021. The haul came after Italy’s worst har­vest, in terms of quan­tity, since 2018/19.

The rise of Southern Hemisphere pro­duc­ers

One of the chal­lenges faced by the NYIOOC orga­niz­ers has been the dif­fer­ence in har­vest times between the north­ern and south­ern hemi­spheres and the objec­tive to ana­lyze sam­ples at their peak of fresh­ness.

The Northern Hemisphere har­vest gen­er­ally runs from September to January, while Southern Hemisphere pro­duc­ers pick and trans­form their olives from March to July.

This year, NYIOOC orga­niz­ers split the com­pe­ti­tion into two seg­ments, judg­ing Northern Hemisphere pro­duc­ers in April and May before eval­u­at­ing Southern Hemisphere entries in September and October.

While it is hard to define the impact of the change, pro­duc­ers from seven coun­tries across three con­ti­nents in the Southern Hemisphere com­bined to earn 101 awards from a record-high 121 entries.

Southern Hemisphere par­tic­i­pa­tion was spurred by Brazil pro­duc­ers, who earned a record 48 awards from 53 entries, mak­ing the coun­try the sev­enth-most awarded at the con­test. Chile and South Africa also earned a record num­ber of awards.

The ris­ing impor­tance of olive oil qual­ity awards for pro­duc­ers and con­sumers has seen the num­ber of entries from the Southern Hemisphere steadily increase since 2014. In that time, the num­ber of entries and awards rose by 274 per­cent and 72 per­cent, respec­tively, exceed­ing the same per­cent rise in sub­mis­sions and awards from the Northern Hemisphere.

As a result, Southern Hemisphere pro­duc­ers have seen their suc­cess increase rel­a­tive to the over­all growth of the com­pe­ti­tion. This year, pro­duc­ers from the Southern Hemisphere made up 12 per­cent of total awards and 10 per­cent of total entries, a joint record.

Organic olive oil on the rise

Organic extra vir­gin olive oil is in vogue. Market research indi­cates that the organic olive oil mar­ket was val­ued at $933 mil­lion in 2021 and is pro­jected to rise to $2.2 bil­lion by 2031.

Experts attribute the sig­nif­i­cant increase in demand for organic olive oil to ris­ing con­sumer aware­ness of healthy food and sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture.

The grow­ing demand for organic olive oil is reflected in NYIOOC data. At the 2023 World Competition, organic extra vir­gin olive oil earned a record-high 241 awards from 357 entries. Organic entries enjoyed their sec­ond-high­est suc­cess rate at the com­pe­ti­tion of 68 per­cent.

Furthermore, organic extra vir­gin olive oil entries rep­re­sented a record-high 31 per­cent of total entries and 28 per­cent of total awards. While this lat­ter fig­ure was slightly below last year’s rate of 30 per­cent and the record-high from 2016 of 31 per­cent, an upward trend is evi­dent.

The strange story of this year’s blends

Any pro­ducer – award-win­ning or oth­er­wise – will say that cre­at­ing an extra vir­gin olive oil blend com­bines sci­ence and art.

Many pro­duc­ers hire spe­cial­ists to sam­ple each mono­va­ri­etal to craft a per­fectly bal­anced and har­mo­nious blend.

To the credit of pro­duc­ers and mas­ter blenders every­where, blended and mono­va­ri­etal extra vir­gin olive oils have seen sim­i­lar suc­cess in the com­pe­ti­tion over the years. However, 2023 has proven to be a glar­ing excep­tion.

This year, blends expe­ri­enced a 64 per­cent suc­cess rate (352 awards from 546 entries), while mono­va­ri­etals received an aston­ish­ing 80 per­cent suc­cess rate (498 awards from 624 entries).

The 16-point dif­fer­ence between the two is the largest on record. The suc­cess rate of blended and mono­va­ri­etal olive oils often dif­fers by five per­cent­age points or less, which was the case in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2022.

The only other times the dis­crep­ancy between mono­va­ri­etal and blended suc­cess rates loomed large were in 2015, when there was a 12-point dif­fer­ence from roughly half as many entries, and in 2020, which had a nine-point dif­fer­ence from a very sim­i­lar num­ber of entries.

Furthermore, this year’s 64 per­cent suc­cess rate for blended oils was the low­est since 2020, while the 80 per­cent mono­va­ri­etal suc­cess rate was a record high.

One com­pe­ti­tion offi­cial described the result as sig­nif­i­cant, but impos­si­ble to explain.”

Perfection from South African pro­duc­ers

Everyone enjoys cel­e­brat­ing per­fec­tion. This year, pro­duc­ers from South African pro­duc­ers achieved a 100 per­cent suc­cess rate — 16 awards from 16 entries.

This is an unpar­al­leled feat at the NYIOOC. To put the fig­ure in per­spec­tive, coun­tries have only achieved a per­fect suc­cess rate on 31 of 307 occa­sions since 2014. However, none did so, with more than seven entries (achieved by Japan in 2021), and 19 of the 31 coun­tries that achieved the feat did so with a sin­gle award from a sin­gle entry or two awards from two entries.

While this is the least sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant data point of the ones listed above, the adver­sity South African pro­duc­ers over­came to achieve this feat is also worth not­ing.

The 2023 har­vest was marred by an unprece­dented year of rolling black­outs, which dis­rupted irri­ga­tion and forced pro­duc­ers to spend more on gen­er­a­tors and fuel.

An early start to a cold win­ter and unusu­ally wet year also hin­dered the head­rest and resulted in lower lev­els of oil accu­mu­la­tion for some pro­duc­ers.

Still, pro­duc­ers over­came these obsta­cles to earn a record-high num­ber of acco­lades.

Congratulations to Albania

One last bonus point from the data analy­sis: Albania earned its first-ever NYIOOC award in 2023. Producers from the coun­try pre­vi­ously sub­mit­ted five entries on five dif­fer­ent occa­sions.

Albania’s tri­umph this year was the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year a coun­try earned its first-ever recog­ni­tion from the World Competition. Last year, pro­duc­ers from Montenegro earned three awards from four entries. The only other time a Montenegrin pro­ducer sub­mit­ted an olive oil sam­ple to the com­pe­ti­tion was in 2014.


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