`'QvExtra' Quality Seal Launches in Córdoba - Olive Oil Times

'QvExtra' Quality Seal Launches in Córdoba

Jan. 5, 2014
Curtis Cord

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QvExtra President Soledad Serrano at the International Congress of Extra Virgin Olive Oil in Córdoba, Spain.

The Andalusian city of Córdoba hosted the first International Congress of Extra Virgin Olive Oil” orga­nized by QvExtra, an asso­ci­a­tion of EVOO pro­duc­ers.
The pro­gram fea­tured pre­sen­ta­tions on health, gas­tron­omy, pro­duc­tion and mar­ket­ing — and the unveil­ing of a new qual­ity cer­ti­fi­ca­tion seal.

Attending the two-day event were QvExtra mem­bers — mostly pro­duc­ers from Spain — seek­ing to dis­tin­guish their prod­ucts in the mar­ket­place by adher­ing to strict guide­lines and dis­play­ing a gold seal that cer­ti­fies olive oil to be extra vir­gin qual­ity for the dura­tion of its shelf life.

Within cen­tral Córdoba’s his­toric Palacio de Merced, olive oil pro­duc­ers said they were exas­per­ated by the frag­mented, short­sighted cam­paigns pro­mot­ing olive oil from cer­tain regions. QvExtra orga­niz­ers called for a uni­fied effort to pro­mote cer­ti­fied extra vir­gin olive oils in all mar­kets.

It was an ambi­tious under­tak­ing that has been attempted before. Two years ago a sim­i­lar event in Córdoba, the Beyond Extra Virgin” con­fer­ence orga­nized by a diverse group called 3E, engaged in a bid to define the top tier of olive oil qual­ity. Both con­fer­ences pro­vided photo-op back­drops for regional politi­cians, dizzy­ing dis­plays of local del­i­ca­cies and con­vinc­ing ratio­nale for orga­niz­ing pro­duc­ers com­mit­ted to extra vir­gin olive oil qual­ity.

Manuel Heredia Halcón, QvExtra sec­re­tary

A num­ber of seal pro­grams have been devel­oped by var­i­ous orga­ni­za­tions around the world, all with the aim of pro­vid­ing some con­fi­dence to con­sumers who have been bom­barded by years of indus­try mud­sling­ing, end­less sto­ries of olive oil fraud and decep­tive mes­sages from indus­try stake­hold­ers.

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Last October, the International Olive Council invited rep­re­sen­ta­tives to present their seal pro­grams at a Madrid meet­ing of its Advisory Committee on Olive Oil and Table Olives. The com­mit­tee heard from QvExtra and the Extra Virgin Alliance — two pro­grams offer­ing sim­i­lar solu­tions to qual­ity-minded pro­duc­ers.

In Córdoba, Jean-Louis Barjol, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the International Olive Council, cau­tioned the 200 or so atten­dees on the chal­lenges inher­ent in estab­lish­ing a qual­ity stan­dard with broad accep­tance. You are in a fight and there will be crises,” he said, so you will need to approach pro­duc­ers’ asso­ci­a­tions and gov­ern­ments with a very spe­cific pro­posal.” An event orga­nizer said the IOC pro­vided finan­cial sup­port to the con­gress.

QvExtra claims its mem­bers together pro­duce 80,000 tons of olive oil annu­ally, which would rank the group sixth among the world’s pro­duc­ing coun­tries. Quality is no longer a small sec­tor,” said Manuel Heredia Halcón, QvExtra sec­re­tary, refer­ring to the rel­a­tive indif­fer­ence of the Spanish gov­ern­ment toward past ini­tia­tives to define and pro­mote extra vir­gin olive oil.

Much of that heft is the pro­duc­tion of Oleoestepa — a major Spanish coop­er­a­tive that dis­patches around 30,000 tons annu­ally, and whose chief exec­u­tive, Álvaro Olavarría Govantes, serves as QvExtra vice pres­i­dent. (Oleoestepa brands earned two gold medals at the New York International Olive Oil Competition.)

Conference atten­dees heard from a dis­parate suc­ces­sion of pre­sen­ters: Spanish gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives reviewed recent research (con­sumers still don’t know any­thing about olive oil), cel­e­brated chefs dis­cussed taste char­ac­ter­is­tics of olive vari­eties, pro­duc­ers flipped through pic­tures of their farms, and speak­ers pitched their lat­est projects to a cap­tive audi­ence. Despite a dis­jointed pro­gram, the event served to put QvExtra on the map, at least for now.

Near the end of the event, Heredia out­lined the group’s mem­ber­ship cri­te­ria and tech­ni­cal bench­marks that prod­ucts must meet in order to dis­play the QvExtra seal — chem­i­cal para­me­ters and taste stan­dards that most con­sumers will never take the time to learn, but nev­er­the­less which QvExtra hopes to con­vey through a sim­ple gold shield with its not-so-intu­itive acronym: S‑I-Q-E‑V” (Seal International Quality Extra Virgin).

Unlike other attempts at gain­ing trac­tion with qual­ity assur­ance pro­grams, QvExtra has some com­pet­i­tive advan­tages. It is the only such pro­gram orig­i­nat­ing in Spain — the world’s lead­ing pro­ducer; it already has an impres­sive list of well-known mem­bers like Melgarejo, Pago Baldios San Carlos, Masia el Altet, Oro del Desierto, Casa de Hualdo, O‑Med, Oro Bailen and Almazaras de la Subbetica; and it has won, at least to some degree, back­ing by the International Olive Council.

Whether or not the ini­tia­tive suc­ceeds in mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in the mar­ket­place remains to be seen, but the game is on. With no less than $12 bil­lion in global olive oil sales at stake, QvExtra has for­mally announced its bid to con­ve­niently iden­tify for con­sumers extra vir­gin olive oils that can be trusted.

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