Are We Headed for an Olive Oil Shortage?

Feb. 24, 2017
While Americans so far are immune, concern of an olive oil shortage is being voiced by chefs who claim they're paying higher prices; experts predict global shortages this spring.

Will olive oil soon become a luxury? It seems so in the U.K. and Europe. The concern was voiced by Italian chef Francesco Mazzei, who runs Sartoria, a restaurant in London. Mazzei depends on olive oil for much of his cooking. Because of a shortage, he told Bloomberg News, prices are skyrocketing. He's even had to raise menu prices to compensate.

Other London chefs agree with Mazzei. Ben Tish, who runs a Spanish and Italian tapas restaurant, claims he buys about 100 liters (26 gal.) of olive oil a week, to top grilled flatbread, mix into aioli and prepare olive oil cakes. He says he now pays about 13 percent more, 26 pounds ($32.70) for five liters (1.3 gal.).

Things may only get worse when it comes to the fruity oil. Experts are predicting a worldwide shortage in the next couple of months, hiking prices around the globe. The problem is several terrible years in the making. Erratic weather in Spain, Italy and Greece, where the bulk of the world's olive oil is produced, has decimated crops.

Italy's unseasonably hot and muggy temperatures have attracted fruit flies and bacteria, damaging groves. Farmers report their yields will be cut in half this year. In Greece, a heat wave could cost growers more than a quarter of their crop. Flooding in Spain's most fertile regions has decimated its harvest. Overall, experts say, global production is set to fall about 8 percent.
The shortages come as demand for the product has skyrocketed. China has recently taken a liking to olive oil, consuming nearly $200 million worth each year. The country's nouveau riche see the oil as a healthier alternative to other fatty oils. They import nearly 99 percent of what they use.

While the U.S. produces only 2 percent of the world's olive oil, Americans so far have been immune to the pricing impact, courtesy of the strong dollar. Farmers in California have begun producing olives and pressing out oil. Their profits have jumped 10 percent in the past five years.

Brits may be some of the hardest hit, and will likely pay a third more by the end of the year. It's a big extra cost, especially since the British pound is quite volatile in the wake of the Brexit vote. Walter Zanre, head of the U.K.'s best-selling olive oil brand, sees 2017 "very bad for olive oil."

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