Food aficionados may be surprised to learn that U.S. olive oil producers stand poised to gain ground in what has typically been a market dominated by imports from Europe. While imports as a whole still account for 99 percent of olive oil sales in America, domestic brands offer significantly better quality than well-recognized European brands. This presents the opportunity for consumers to make the move from Old World to New World olive oil. The information comes from a report released by Rabobank's Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory (FAR) group in California focusing on the growing popularity of olive oil and its production origins.

Rabobank predicts the U.S. olive oil industry will likely gain a 5 percent share of the American olive oil market in the next five years. This increase is based on establishing stricter U.S. quality labeling standards and increasing consumer education on quality. U.S. olive oil consumption has grown at an annual rate of nearly 6 percent over the last two decades.

"Research shows that U.S. olive oil producers are providing a far superior product," said Karen Halliburton Barber, assistant vice president and senior agricultural analyst with FAR. "As consumers become educated and begin to appreciate this distinction in quality, demand for U.S. brands will grow."
A recent University of California at Davis study of extra virgin olive oil sold in California found that nearly three-fourths of samples tested of the top selling import brands did not meet international quality standards.

The study found the U.S. and Australian samples met the quality standards. Many of the European brands tested were found to be subpar and blended with cheaper oils. In the case of some leading Italian brands, U.S. consumers associate them with the high quality for which Italian high-end niche producers are recognized worldwide. Yet consumers fail to realize that such brands comprise olive oil which is first imported to Italy from other European and Mediterranean sources and then repackaged.

Currently, the U.S. olive oil industry is attempting to strengthen quality standards for extra virgin olive oil through the passage of a marketing order. This order could eventually require imported olive oil to meet the same higher quality standards as domestic olive oil. Such legislation would likely impact imports significantly, presenting opportunities for domestic olive oil brands to gain shelf space prominence.