Commodities: Tunisia presses EC on olive oil

AS TEMPERATURES rise in the Mediterranean and the olive groves bake in the summer sun, Tunisia is trying to persuade Brussels to increase its olive oil export quota to the European Community.

Tunisia and the world's other largest producers of olive oil - Italy, Spain, Greece and France - all had record crops last year, boosting total world production by one-third to an estimated 2.2 million metric tons.

This record world crop is not a problem for EC olive oil producers, who are subsidised by the Community. But outside, Tunisia in particular is struggling to sell excess stocks of 200,000 tons, and last week requested that the annual limit it sells to Europe be raised to 60,000 tons from 46,000 tons.

Olive oil lovers will be forgiven for hoping that a record crop will mean lower prices. But despite increasing popularity, it remains one of the world's smallest edible oil markets in terms of volumes produced. Limited supplies, erratic crop sizes, EC subsidies and the profit margins of manufacturers and retailers dictate the supermarket price.

Olive oil is a unique market in that 85 to 90 per cent of world output is consumed in the EC, and 75 per cent is produced there. It also imports the oil to blend with EC olive oil of the same quality and re-export.

The EC subsidises producers to maintain production, it subsidises exports, and because the oil is expensive, it subsidises consumption in producing countries to make the price affordable, says Fabio Gencarelli, head of the EC olive oil, olives and textile fibres division.

Community aid is so generous to the industry because olive oil is viewed as a social crop for the poorer Mediterranean EC states, and maintaining the industry and growers' incomes curbs the exodus of the rural population to the cities.

Consumption in countries such as Britain, America, Australia and Japan started to take off after studies in the mid-1980s showed that it was healthier than some other edible oils.

In the UK, consumption is low compared with other European countries - 0.1 kilogram per person per year compared with 20 kilograms per person in Greece. But its use here has soared by 20 to 30 per cent per year in recent years, and imports are estimated at 9,500 tons for 1992/3.

Producing countries have improved growing methods to meet demand, but output has risen by only 1 per cent in 10 years. Marketing campaigns are proving successful. In Italy and Spain, where some of the finest olive oils are pressed, producers label, categorise and blend their oils by quality, like wines.

Hedi Guerbaa, head of economics at the International Olive Oil Council in Madrid, says the oils are graded with registered designations of origin, like the appellation controlee found on wine. 'Consumers know what they are getting when they buy olive oil in terms of quality.'

Olive oils range in quality and price from extra virgin, which is the top-of- the-line pressed oil with a distinctive fruity flavour, to standard or pure olive oil, which must be refined to correct problems of acidity, colouring and taste.

Ivor Harrison, UK brand manager of Dante Olive Oil, launched by Unilever's Van den Berghs foods in 1991, says the finest olive oils in Italy can cost up to pounds 20 a litre. Fortunately prices are more down-to-earth at British supermarkets, but olive oil can be four times as expensive as ordinary vegetable oil.

A 500ml bottle of Berio or Napoletana extra virgin olive oil costs pounds 2.52, Dante is pounds 2.49, and Sainsbury's own label pounds 2.12. Sainsbury's standard olive oil is pounds 1.79 for 500ml. But that is still way above its blended vegetable oil at 42p and rapeseed oil at 49p.

Rosalind Warren, a consultant with Landell Mills Commodity Studies in Oxford, says that marketing has gone a long way towards creating a positive image for olive oil. Rapeseed oil, on the other hand, has image problems though it is even lower in saturated fats than olive oil and higher in polyunsaturates.

'Rapeseed oil has very desirable health attributes but its name is unattractive, it is very cheap, and packaged in plastic bottles,' she said.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Content Writer - Global Financial Services

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Consultant - Financial Services - OTE £65,000

£15000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Loan Underwriter

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future