Combined, Spain, Italy, Tunisia, Greece, Turkey, Morocco and Portugal are the source of over 80% of global olive oil output. Spain (#1) alone produces up to half of the 3 million tons the world consumes annually. But its current harvest outlook doesn’t look much better than its past. Whereas Italy (#2) expects a small recovery, Greece (#3) faces a lower harvest outlook. Meanwhile, Turkey and Tunisia continue to impose a ban on exports in order to keep domestic supplies ample and affordable. But by further squeezing the global supply, prices are expected to remain high, currently exceeding $9.00/liter at the Mill for Extra Virgin (EVOO) vs. $4.50 in 2020-22.
Once the market digests the new price range buyers will be challenged to source unadulterated EVOO. Back in 2016, CBS’s 60 Minutes had exposed the Italian Food Mafia’s forays in the Olive Oil trade by blending lower grade oils with Extra Virgin (EVOO) in order to gain from the price gap commanded by the top olive oil grade. Reported olive oil thefts are minor to the adulteration of olive oil that will reach store shelves and commercial kitchens this year. Diluted with inedible grades such as Lampante or blended with canola, fraudulent producers and traders will strive to fool buyers and consumers as to the real identity of the packaged content. A coordinated Europol investigation involving Spanish and Italian police resulted in the seizure of adulterated olive oil in central Spain last month.
The real challenge for buyers in 2024 is to source their EVOO needs from reliable producers. Such sourcing leads straight to the farm (i.e. a vertical Olive Oil Cooperative) where adulteration and blending is neither part of their philosophy nor their infrastructure.