The Story Behind Starbucks Oleato

Starbucks shocked the world by putting olive oil in its coffees. Tommaso Asaro says it's just the beginning.

Tommaso Asaro, CEO of Oleificio Asaro, the company that produces Partanna olive oil used in the Starbucks Oleato
By Curtis Cord
Sep. 26, 2023 14:31 UTC
Tommaso Asaro, CEO of Oleificio Asaro, the company that produces Partanna olive oil used in the Starbucks Oleato

Howard Schultz, who rose from the gloomy hous­ing projects in Canarsie, Brooklyn, to build the world’s most valu­able restau­rant brand and con­sid­ered run­ning for U.S. pres­i­dent, is talk­ing a lot about olive oil these days.

If some­one took a blood test of me,” he told CNN recently, I think my blood’s com­ing out gold, I’ve had so much olive oil.”

I’ll carry the Starbucks flag and the American flag all over the world for Oleato.”- Howard Schultz, Starbucks for­mer CEO

Last February, Starbucks announced one of its biggest launches in decades — a fusion of cof­fee and extra vir­gin olive oil. I know it will trans­form the cof­fee indus­try,” Schultz said about the new Oleato line of drinks.

The news swept through another indus­try in dire need of a trans­for­ma­tion, elic­it­ing cheers from stake­hold­ers who saw new oppor­tu­ni­ties. Giving [extra vir­gin olive oil] value through cof­fee could relaunch its image, mostly among the younger gen­er­a­tions,” said Anna Cane, pres­i­dent of the olive oil group of the Italian Association of the Edible Oil Industry (Assitol).

Olive oil pro­duc­ers and mar­keters have long bemoaned the lack of con­sumer knowl­edge about olive oil, its health ben­e­fits and its usage. Here was the CEO of Starbucks wax­ing poet­i­cally on a lus­cious, vel­vety fla­vor that lingers in your mouth.”


Howard Schultz (AP)

In over 40 years, I can’t remem­ber a moment in time where I’ve been more excited, more enthused that demon­strates the pride, the qual­ity, the pas­sion, the her­itage and the craft of what Starbucks can do,” Schultz told CNBC. I’ll carry the Starbucks flag and the American flag all over the world for Oleato.”

It was­n’t just olive oil Starbucks was pro­mot­ing with its new drinks; it was extra vir­gin olive oil. And it was­n’t some no-name blend; it was Partanna Nocellara del Belice from Sicily.

People are gonna add a table­spoon of Partanna extra vir­gin olive oil to their drink,” Schultz pro­claimed. I’m sure of it.”

Starbucks cam­paigns, news reports and social media have pro­moted the Partanna brand along­side the famous Starbucks logo in a stun­ning pub­lic rela­tions tri­umph for Tommaso Asaro.



We met in New York, then we went to Sicily,” Asaro said about his first dis­cus­sions with Schultz, where the idea for Oleato took shape. The two were intro­duced by a mutual friend and talked in gen­eral terms about a cof­fee drink with olive oil.

Asaro is the fourth-gen­er­a­tion pro­ducer of Partanna, an award-win­ning extra vir­gin olive oil from the Valle del Belice in south­west­ern Sicily. And he was show­ing the Starbucks CEO around.

Of course I took him to the touris­tic places, in town and our farm. He was stunned about the amaz­ing Belice Valley that he never saw before,” Asaro said of the visit.

I came across a time-hon­ored tra­di­tion that trans­formed my cof­fee expe­ri­ence and improved my life.- Howard Schultz, for­mer Starbucks CEO

This sum­mer, I was once again cap­ti­vated by a trans­for­ma­tional idea while trav­el­ing through Italy,” Schultz wrote in a memo to Starbucks employ­ees about his visit to Sicily. I came across a time-hon­ored tra­di­tion that trans­formed my cof­fee expe­ri­ence and improved my life. It was wholly unex­pected, yet the pos­si­bil­i­ties filled me with excite­ment.”

Asaro admit­ted he knew as lit­tle about cof­fee as Schultz knew about olive oil when they met.

If you talked to me about cof­fee, prob­a­bly I was think­ing there were only two dif­fer­ent cof­fees in the world. But instead there are hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent beans with their own qual­i­ties,” said Asaro.

While Asaro and Schultz began form­ing the idea for Oleato (Asaro came up with the name), Starbucks rep­re­sen­ta­tives fanned out to taste oils around Italy before com­mit­ting to Partanna.

Amy Dilger, prin­ci­pal Starbucks bev­er­age devel­oper, likened the nat­ural sym­me­try between the two prod­ucts. As I learned about Partanna extra vir­gin olive oil, I kept see­ing things that reminded me of Starbucks cof­fee, specif­i­cally how the ter­roir, the ori­gin, and the vari­etals con­tribute to the unique fla­vor and tex­ture,” she said.

They tasted oils from many other vari­eties and places,” Asaro recalled. We com­pared the prod­ucts, and there were def­i­nitely many great oils. Nocellara has a spe­cific taste pro­file and color and only grows in one area. With its smooth and nutty fla­vor, not so bit­ter, and lit­tle after­taste, it was the per­fect bal­ance.”

I think of all the but­tery caramels that we mix with our cof­fee,” Dilger said. That but­tery smooth rich­ness [of the Partanna mono­va­ri­etal] com­bines so well with our cof­fee.”


Nocellara del Belice olives (Oleificio Asaro)

Unlike most major pro­duc­ers, gen­er­a­tions of the Asaro fam­ily have staked their busi­ness on one olive vari­ety in one Sicilian val­ley, work­ing with around 1,000 farms of all sizes and pro­cess­ing their fruit in one place. They have eschewed high-den­sity farm­ing, which does­n’t suit the Nocellara del Belice cul­ti­var.

Partanna and other Asaro brands have a long his­tory of win­ning awards at the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, which served as an inde­pen­dent ver­i­fi­ca­tion of qual­ity to the Starbucks team, and Asaro had the capac­ity to sup­ply a global retail chain. They saw many sim­i­lar­i­ties between what we do here and what they did in Costa Rica,” Asaro told Olive Oil Times.

See Also:Starbucks Introduces Olive Oil-Infused Coffee in Italy

When the com­pa­nies reached an agree­ment, Asaro’s team worked with coun­ter­parts at Starbucks to develop cus­tom one-liter pump bot­tles and sync logis­tic sys­tems.

We are really going to break the rules and we have other things in mind where we can go. There is a big­ger place for olive oil.- Tommaso Asaro, CEO, Oleificio Asaro

Starbucks takes pos­ses­sion of the fin­ished prod­uct in Sicily and dis­patches it to its dis­tri­b­u­tion cen­ters world­wide. So far, Oleato is served at roughly 4,000 Starbucks in the United States, Italy, France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Japan, Asaro said. In a few months, they will launch in China. Starbucks has 36,000 out­lets in 80 coun­tries.

They really want to do it right,” Asaro said. The idea was, you don’t want to see the olive oil but you want to taste and get the ben­e­fits of it. To do that they have a train­ing place and they train in the stores.”

With the drink intro­duced in the U.S. just last spring, Asaro antic­i­pates a sales surge in the com­ing colder months. September is a month where the sales are pick­ing up again. People will come back from hol­i­days and return to their rou­tines,” he said.



Asaro sees Starbucks as the begin­ning of a broader trend to intro­duce the taste and health ben­e­fits of extra vir­gin olive oil in other prod­ucts.

You’re going to see this in the next few years,” he said. It’s already a sta­ple. So we are really going to break the rules and we have other things in mind where we can go. There is a big­ger place for olive oil. It is a super healthy food.”

We need to fin­ish and com­plete the Starbucks project and get it to one hun­dred per­cent. But the expe­ri­ence of course brought me, and I think every­body else, to think out of the box,” Asaro said.

See Also:Starbucks Could Become a Global Ambassador for EVOO, Experts Say

Meanwhile, Partanna, which, accord­ing to Asaro, is the old­est brand in Italy still owned by its found­ing fam­ily, is rel­ish­ing a thor­oughly mod­ern viral moment and a boost to its sales. Because of the pub­lic­ity in Starbucks, they are dis­cov­er­ing the Partanna story,” he told us.

Asaro, who divides his time between New York and Sicily, has seen a lot of ups and downs in 40 years in the fam­ily busi­ness. His unprece­dented deal with Starbucks came, para­dox­i­cally, at a time of unique chal­lenges in the indus­try.

This is really the most dif­fi­cult year that I remem­ber. I’ve never seen any­thing like it,” Asaro said about the pro­duc­tion drop and price surge that he blames on erratic weather spurred by cli­mate change. My father says the same thing. It’s the worst he’s ever seen.”


Asaro Farm in Partanna, Sicily

Still, Asaro, who has led a tran­si­tion to organic pro­duc­tion in the Belice Valley, has a bull­ish out­look on the indus­try.

Consumer nowa­days have much more knowl­edge on the prove­nance, vari­ety, method of extraction…the mar­ket is totally dif­fer­ent than we had before,” he said. Of course the pric­ing should be aligned with qual­ity and I see the mar­ket really get­ting divided. So before it was low, medium and high qual­ity. Now I can say it’s either high qual­ity or really mass mar­ket.”

And he sees a con­tin­u­ing evo­lu­tion, through con­sumer edu­ca­tion, toward a higher regard for Liquid Gold.

People need to learn more about how to use olive oil at home, put it every­where, put it in the salad, be gen­er­ous with it,” Asaro said. There are so many things still undis­cov­ered.”

Share this article


Related Articles