Part of a clear bottle of olive oil on a wooden table with sea and land view in the background

From New Orleans to Chicago, from Washington to London, headlines trumpet,  “We’re about to suffer a worldwide olive oil shortage,” and “Olive Oil Prices Are Going Through the Roof”! Is it really that bad? Yes, olive oil production is down, demand and prices are up, but the numbers and supply in Greece and Spain suggest there is really no need to panic.

While Italian olive oil production may have decreased almost 49% this year compared to last, with Greek production around 36% lower, according to European Commission preliminary estimates reported by Mercacei, Spain will produce almost 94% of last year’s output. That last number is very important, because Spain produces far more olive oil than any other country in the world. Bloomberg reports that “global production is set to drop about 8% this season”—8%, nothing near Italy’s 49%!

Recent estimates for Greek production in the 2016/17 crop year range from a low of 150,000 to 160,000 metric tons reported in Mercacei last week to a high of 205,000 tons in an earlier Mercacei report. The latest numbers provided to Greek Liquid Gold by the directors of the major Greek olive oil industry associations, Panayiotis Karantonis (ESVITE) and George Economou (SEVITEL), fall in the middle, with slightly more than 180,000 metric tons expected. Karantonis and Economou explain that the reduced crop is due to “adverse weather conditions and diseases” in Greece and elsewhere.

The International Olive Council (IOC) reports significant increases in olive oil imports in China, Australia, and Canada at the beginning of the crop year (October and November 2016), supporting claims of increasing demand for the product. Given increased demand and decreased supply, it is unsurprising that the IOC describes a 10% increase in Spanish extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) producer prices in January compared to a year earlier and a 17% increase in Greek prices. The 70% increase in Italian prices seems to have inspired the shocked headlines, but only in Italy are the EVOO price hikes that extreme.

As Bloomberg points out, the falling value of the British pound makes olive oil especially expensive in the UK now, but a strong dollar means Americans “have so far enjoyed lower prices.” And while prices paid to olive oil producers continued to rise in Italy and Spain between January 24 and February 14, according to the Association of Cretan Olive Municipalities, the prices stabilized during that period in most of Greece.

Buyers, importers, and consumers should not panic, because Spain produces far more of the world’s olive oil than Italy, and a number of other countries, including Greece, have also been awarded international recognition as producers of excellent quality, extremely healthy EVOO in recent years. Several Greek EVOO exporters tell Greek Liquid Gold of a wide range of prices for their products right now, and a wide range of increases—or no increase—in those prices compared with last year. So the Greek olive oil market is certainly worth exploring.

According to Karantonis and Economou, Greek olive oil is worth buying because of its excellent quality, “about 80% of the annual production being EVOO, due to the ideal climatic and soil conditions prevailing in the country and the tree varieties (especially Koroneiki),” and also since “it is always authentically 100% Greek, given that the country has a permanent surplus of more than 50% of its annual production and no imports.” They add, “the price of Greek EVOO offers real value for the money, given its excellent quality!”

Among the Greek olive oil export companies who discussed this with Greek Liquid Gold, price increases range from 0% to 25% compared with last year, with regional and individual variations. For example, Nikos Xaramis explains that for Kasell SA in Laconia, Peloponnese, “the price of the raw material (EVOO) in our region is about 10% - 15% higher than the rest of Greece.” Kostas Kidonakis at Kidonakis Brothers in Crete explains that they try to keep prices “as low as possible, so we have decreased our profit” to avoid losing customers; “even if we pay the producer 24% more than a year ago, we have increased prices only 12%.”

Myrta Kalampoka of Eirini Plomariou in Lesbos is one of several who have not increased prices at all this year. Kalampoka emphasizes that they continue to offer fair prices for high quality, healthy olive oil, as required to stay competitive in today’s market. She regrets that the EVOO from her island, Lesbos, sells for lower prices than in most of Greece, although the island requires extra income after tens of thousands of needy refugees replaced much needed tourists.

Maria Guadagno Katsetos of Loutraki Oil Company reminds buyers and consumers that the price of bottled EVOO is “affected by various factors, such as the costs of the bottles and other related accessories, trucking costs as well as bottling costs.” Giovanni Bianchi of Argali believes bottled high quality Greek extra virgin olive oil deserves higher prices, given the cost of labels, boxes, and bottling, on top of all the olive oil production costs. He insists that it should not bring in lower prices than olive oil sold in bulk (not bottled) at an Italian mill—as it still does in some cases.

Myrta Kalampoka adds, “now Greek producers want to earn the value and the respect that was lost all those years while they were selling in bulk” to Italy, where their EVOO was mixed with olive oil from other countries and re-exported. “They deserve it, because Greek producers make the best, to offer quality.” 

For example, Evi Psounou Prodromou of Yanni’s Olive Grove sells their olive oil in 500 ml tins rather than liter containers “because we want to keep the best quality in early harvest EVOO. Oxygen is the main enemy of EVOO, so when we bottle our EVOOs we put nitrogen in the bottle. As soon as the customer opens the sealed bottle, the damage begins. That’s why we have small packaging, in order for our EVOOs to be consumed as soon as possible,” while they are at their best.

As Stratis Camatsos of evo3 explains, “now with a shortage of supply, yes, prices have gone up,” but real, good extra virgin olive oil cannot be cheap. EVOOs “from producers who are true to their product and what they sell to consumers were already being sold at a price that reflects the true cost of production, labor, and passion for a quality EVOO. Speaking for myself, this year, we have absorbed part of the rising cost of olive oil in order to keep our prices similar to previous years and to keep our consumers happy.”
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Thanks to all the olive oil producers and experts who responded to my questions for this article. Panayiotis Karantonis is a member of the International Olive Council (IOC) advisory committee as well as the director of ESVITE, the Greek Association of Olive Oil Processors and Packers. George Economou is the director of SEVITEL, the Association of Greek Industries for Standardization of Olive Oil.

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