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Is the Olive Oil Industry Suffering from Boiling Frog Syndrome?
The anecdote goes that if you drop a frog into boiling water it will jump out – but if you put the frog in water and heat it slowly the frog will not jump out and die.
This could be a metaphor for the olive oil industry where change has been taking place slowly and has been recently exacerbated by the international credit squeeze. The industry has been slow to respond with any sense of unity.
Short term negative effects on sales worldwide can be attributed to oversupply, poor terms of trade and a loss of confidence in extra virgin olive oil resulting from wide publicity given to fraud allegations and convictions. In a few years this ‘perfect storm’ should abate and longer term issues will become more apparent.
Extra virgin olive oil has three main sales advantages. It is fresh and not refined, it has health advantages and it has great taste characteristics. But it is expensive. All three characteristics are vulnerable: more vegetable oils are being cold-pressed, oils like canola are being genetically-engineered to have fatty acid profiles as good as olive oil and polyphenols can be added to enhance the anti-oxidant profile. So it comes down to taste and that is appreciated by a relatively small number of consumers.Add to this ‘slow heating’ by other competing vegetable oils, the cooking characteristics of olive oil in terms of smoke point are under fire.
Olive oil in 2009/10 was ranked 9th in the production and therefore consumption of vegetable oils. It accounts for 2.16% of world vegetable oil production, down from 2.99% in 2003/4.
Most of the publicity surrounding olive oil is around containing the financial impact of the current glut and cracking down on fraud – which can be expected to increase as the financial pressure increases.
At a local, regional, national and international level the olive oil industry needs a cohesive plan which when implemented reinforces the positive aspects our product.
It is time we as olive oil producers stopped the dirty and odious sales tactic of undermining olive oil produced by our competitors and replaced it with the respect good products deserve. There will always be the need to ensure the quality of the product meets international standards – however this has become a major sales tactic in new producing countries trying to displace imports and even in the traditional producing countries where oils from one country are denigrated by another.