The global olive oil market is having its worst year ever

Not the most fruitful harvest this year.
Not the most fruitful harvest this year.
Image: Reuters/Ali Hashisho
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Bad news for fans of the Mediterranean diet: olive oil is quite scarce this season, and it soon will be pricier for consumers.

In Andalusia, Spain, it was drought that ruined the olive harvest; in Italy, olive trees in Puglia were ravaged by a bacteria called Xylella fastidiosa; while in Tuscany, millions of olives were destroyed by pesky fruit flieshail storms and floods were additional culprits in what Italian newspaper La Repubblica has dubbed ”The Black Year of Italian Olive Oil.”

Some olive-growing countries have fared better, though. Greece produced more than twice as much olive oil this year as in 2013, and Tunisia’s 2014 output is more than triple what it was in 2013. However, those countries both had unusually low levels of production in 2013, so their olive harvests this year aren’t bounties as much as returns to normal. Besides, even the most successful Greek and Tunisian olive growers can’t produce what the Spanish and Italians normally do, quantity-wise.

Spain and Italy account for more than two-thirds of the world’s olive oil. Accordingly, their deficient harvests are to blame for what will be the world’s lowest olive oil output in 15 years.

Spanish production is down by 54 percent and Italian production is down by 34 percent.
Spanish production is down by 54 percent and Italian production is down by 34 percent.

Spanish production is off by 54% and Italian production is down by more than a third. In a few months, Italian olive oil prices will have risen by 30%, analysts say. Bulk prices of oil from some regions are already double what they were at this time last year, according to the Associated Press. Greek olive oil prices have gone down, meanwhile.

Popular opinion is that black years like these will happen again as climate change confounds traditional agricultural practices.

The bottom line for olive oil fans is this: stock up on what’s in stores now, especially the Italian extra-virgin kind. And in the months ahead, beware labeling fraud; sources quoted by the Los Angeles Times advise steering clear of “anything claiming to be Italian oil that costs below … $12 per liter.”