Buyer Beware

An NAOOA Alert to Olive Oil Buyers
in the Foodservice Industry

Richard J. Sullivan, President
North American Olive Oil Association

When a price is too low for olive oil, it is a ransom price for seed oil.

"I am a crook, but not in a wrongful way. My customers knew from the price that I was not selling them 100% olive oil"

The NAOOA regularly goes into supermarkets and buys olive oil to test. Experience to date shows that we have little or no problem in this area.

The NAOOA...cannot go into restaiurants to buy olive oil, so that is where the problems seem to be.

The restaurant trade has undoubtedly found that the price of olive oil has skyrocketed during the last 18 months. A combination of factors including poor weather in the Mediterranean, a world wide increase in demand, and a reduction in subsidies contributed toward the current record high pricing levels. Regrettably, the high pricing spells economic opportunity for those willing to engage in the practice of selling adulterated oil. The simplest way for the restaurant operator to avoid tìaud in the purchase of olive oil is to buy the brands that he knows he can trust. There are recognized names in the industry. Most of them are in the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA). It conducts an industry wide quality assurance program, regularly testing the product of all its members, and the products readily available in the market. It used to be that olive oils packed in the US were distinguishable from those packed abroad. The can was a little bit different, and so was the seal. Now the can and seal may be identical to imported product, making it more difficult to know the origin of the oil. The trade seems to have a preference for product packed abraad, although this is not a guarantee it will be 100% olive oil, as when the price is too good to be true. When the price is too low for olive oil, it is a ransom price for seed oil. That is where the biggest fraud lies. Forget the fact that the product is not 100% olive oil. The buyer did not pay for 100% olive oil, but he did overpay for seed oil. It is the highest priced seed oil that has ever been sold. Restaurant buyer beware. One packer/distnbutor recently confided: 'I am a crook, but not in a wrongful way". He justified his practice of selling adulterated oil by stating "My customers [other distributors'] knew from the price that I was not selling them 100% olive oil. The real crooks are the ones selling a blended oil for the price of olive oil." Theoretically one would agree that the latter are also crooks, but this is líke the pot calling the kettle black. He was selling a product mislabeled as Olive Pomace Oil, and when caught, switched his label to Olive Pomace Brand in big, bright letters. That is not the name of anything. It is an attempt to confuse the ultimate restaurant buyer into thinking he is still buying Olive Pomace Oil. In tiny print on the side, at the bottom-most edge of the tin, a label detective could find the words "canola oil". The label said that the product was from Bottricello, Italy, but in fact, it was blended on the West Coast. The packer may have a distorted opinion of himself in thinking that he is a crook, but not in a wrongful way. There is no rightful way to be a crook, although he boasts of tuming a $3,000 investment into a $10 million business. That's what happens when people pay high prices for seed oil. At a local restaurant, the owner recently complained that his regular brand, a well known brand, was $20 more a case than a brand packed in New Jersey. His regular brand was olive oil. The lower priced product, according to testing done for the association was not 100% olive oil. It is said that the distributor knows what he is buying, but does the restaurant operator know what he is buying from the disuibutor? Not always, but he can check pnces in Club stores and in supermarkets. If he is offered product at well below those prices, he should be suspicious.
When he is suspicious we invite him to call the NAOOA at 908-583-8188 and arrange to have the product tested in accordance with its established procedures. If we find something wrong we demand an immediate correction by the packer.If the correction is not made we tum our evidence over to FDA, and whether a correction is made or not we keep testing on a regular basis. We are committed to industry quality control which is far different from company quality control. Companies are responsible for the quality of the olive oil they buy or sell, and must do their own testing. We do not substitute for that, by offering a free testing service. Our testing program is to identify problem companies and to put pressure on them to clean up their act. The NAOOA regularly goes into supermarkets and buys olive oil to test. Experience to date shows that we have little or no problem in this area. NAOOA cannot go into restaurants to buy olive oil so that is where the problems seem to be. It needs the cooperation of restaurant operators who care about their olive oil to furnish it with samples of suspicious product. Reputable foodservice distributors cooperate with the NAOOA and provide samples for testing, but the distributors buying and selling mislabeled product will not cooperate. All they want are the words "olive oil" on the label and a low price so that they can undersell their competition. One deceptive label, recently sent to the NAOOA, identified the product as "Pomace Brand, Imported". Vignettes of olives appeared prominently on the label. One could put two and two together and come up with five, thinking the product was Olive PomaceOil, a big seller in the restaurant trade in recent years. This oil ís obtained from the Pomace that is left after olives have been pressed, plus the addition of a little virgin olive oil for flavor. It is less expensive than olive oil and good for frying. "Pomace Brand, Imported" on the other hand was further described at the bottom of the label as 95% pomace rape oil, and 5% extra virgin olive oil. What is pomace rape oil? Never heard of it. Buyer beware. Can manufacturers have stock labels for authographed olive oil tins. For a $150 set up charge a distributor can introduce a new brand. For $2,000 it can obtain a whole new design. When offered new brands, restaurant buyers again should be suspicious, and ask for the origin of the oil and where it was packed. If it's priced well below reputable brands, the buyer doesn't even have to ask. H/she will know what it is. NAOOA would like to back up that conviction with science, by testing the oil, and if it is mislabeled or adulterated, do its best to get it off the market. To do this, it needs the cooperation of the restaurant buyer. NAOOA represents importers and marketers of olive oil. Its testing program is conducted in accordance with the "Monitoring Agreement for Olive Oils and Olive Pomace Oils Marketed in the United States of America and Canada." Its partners in this agreement are the olive oil trade associations in the producing countries and the Intemational Olive Oil Council, an intergovernmental agency set up under the United Nations. NAOOA is located at 5 Ravine Drive, P.O. Box 776, Matawan, NJ 07747. Tel: 908-583-8188, Fax: 908-583-0798, E-mail:

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