The great olive oil crisis of 2016

By / Food / June 21st, 2018 / 8
The Great Oil Crisis

Oil Crisis! Stock Up

Of course, we all know that crude oil is currently rather abundant and practically cheaper than water everywhere except at the gas station. The oil in crisis in this case is that which is squeezed from the fruit of the olive tree.

You may recall a similar catastrophe happening a couple years ago. The story of The Great Oil Crisis of the 2016 Harvest is largely the same story as The Great Oil Crisis of the 2014 Harvest: same basic cast of players (Italy, Spain, Greece — maybe a cameo from France), the same nefarious villains (too much/not enough rain, Xf disease, olive fruit flies) and, in all likelihood, the same outcome (sensationalist headlines, questionably researched stories, maybe a justified price blip here and there and some no doubt unjustified price hikes triggered by unscrupulous individuals trying to cash in on the panic caused by “the global olive oil shortage”). In other words, much ado about nothing.

When it comes to getting the “real dope” on things like commodities shortages, I’m less inclined to believe the mainstream media than I may have been back in the days when you could (sort of) trust them. I won’t go into a long rant about how nobody’s willing to pay credible writers and reporters for credible writing and reporting and how “fake news” is proliferating because of this and how the number of Twitter followers one has is now more important than one’s credentials, knowledge, research and fact-checking skills. Believe me, I won’t do that. Truth is, facts are boring (though alternative ones can be amusing) and full of details. And details are just too fiddly for most us who are distracted to death these days.

“It’s not sexy to get into details,” admits Dolores Smith of The Olivar Corp, my main source of not only top-quality olive oil, but also top quality industry information. “Verifying details means sifting through a variety of information sources and coming up with some key messages that may not have natural appeal; the simple ‘black and white’ might get pretty grey. And, unlike some other food products, the reality of olive oil is that purity/quality depends on some technical information, which, again, requires hard work to explain in an easy-to-understand way.” (Hard work, I should add, that underpaid journalists are less inclined to get involved with these days. Just saying …)

In her usual fastidious style, Smith provided me with stats, figures, comparisons and links to numerous technical industry publications. In other words, lots of details to get though. Meaning lots of work (see previous comments). Lucky for me, I have a day job to pay the bills (and not much to do with my spare time). “So, get to the point,” I hear you demanding (assuming you made it this far without being distracted). “Is there or is there not an oil crisis, and should I be stockpiling the stuff while the piling’s good?” Okay, ready? Here it goes.

It depends.

Is global production down for the 2016 olive harvest? Yes. Do quality and quantity have anything to do with each other? Yes. In fact, one is often the inverse of the other. So, should you avoid buying oil from the 2016 harvest? No — if you typically buy top-quality, extra virgin stuff from reputable producers. Can you expect a massive price increase and a product shortage? Unlikely. Prices could rise a bit, but prices for everything rise (been house shopping in Toronto recently?). Plus, when you consider how undervalued top EVOO is, maybe it’s more comforting to see it less as a price increase and more of a gradual progression towards producers and marketers making something akin to a living wage.

Finally, keep this in mind: much like wine, olive oil can be great one year in a particular terroir, and not so good the same year somewhere else. So, if your favourite EVOO is a bit too pricy this year, try others. There’s always somebody making top-flight juice. As one of Smith’s overseas contacts commented to her by email:

“About the harvest now of this year, it was very difficult in the Mediterranean as you have read. But not for us.”


Tod Stewart is the contributing editor at Quench. He's an award-winning Toronto-based wine/spirits/food/travel/lifestyle writer with over 35 years industry experience. He has contributed to newspapers, periodicals, and trade publications and has acted as a consultant to the hospitality industry. No matter what the subject matter, he aims to write an entertaining read. His book, 'Where The Spirits Moved Me' is now available on Amazon and Apple.

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