North American Olive Oil Association
Don Griego, AMD Oil Sales
The North American Olive Oil Association has moved full steam ahead during the past 12 months. The pace of programs, decisions, defenses and new initiatives all continue at full speed.
The year started with the resignation of Eryn Balch, our executive vice president, who had guided us through an incredible period of growth marked by truly tumultuous events, including the onslaught of fake news stemming from the UC Davis reports on olive oil quality. Eryn’s departure was a blow for several reasons, as we will miss her work ethic, her skill level in handling difficult issues and more importantly the day-to-day operations which she led with a bright, energetic smile no matter what was thrown in front of her. We owe Eryn a debt of gratitude and wish her the best in her new career path.
So, the first order of business was to hire a recruiting firm to help us search for a new executive director. The firm we hired worked efficiently to get us a good number of candidates in a short period of time. (Special thanks to Patti Andrade and Steve Mandia for their help and experience in recommending this top-flight search firm). After a few busy months, in October we were fortunate to hire a familiar face in the industry. Joseph R. Profaci, previously serving as Colavita’s general counsel and my predecessor as NAOOA chairman, was named executive director. Despite our best attempts during the period after Eryn left, several important funding and strategic initiatives were behind, so whoever took that role would have to hit the ground running. From his experience, Joe was in a great position to be able to do that and possesses other tangible and intangible qualities the executive committee was looking for. We are proud to have Joe heading our organization.
With that, we would like to recognize the other executive committee members – Marco de Ceglie from Salov North America, Alberto Perez from Deoleo, Gabi Estevez from Sovena USA. Tom Mueller, formerly of Salov NA, now from Mueller Group U.S., sits on the board as a former chair. It is a pleasure to work with these experienced executives in formulating, planning and instituting our new initiatives while maintaining and improving our current strategic plan. The committee spends vast amount of time and energy to meet, coordinate, run internal committees, plan activities and react to the many weekly market developments that transpire. It is a good team that is producing excellent results.
As Joe and the new board have gotten settled, we have resumed our activities in full force, including work with the public relations firm Hillenby on which we rely heavily to frame our strategic messaging and monitor the market for (real) fake news and assist us in responding. We also hired consulting firm The Fresh Approach to help us in the execution of a new consumer attitude and usage study. We’re pleased the A&U was a project on which we collaborated with the American Olive Oil Producers’ Association and that the report has yielded some very interesting information. As we continue to hone our messaging, we have engaged Agile Pixel, which handles our social media, including Twitter, Facebook, to give our website and blog an overhaul. And down in Washington D.C., Akin Gump is fully in charge of our defense of the category and proactive efforts to educate our elected officials about the industry needs.
Together, our team of members, the executive committee and consultants are now moving into more-proactive programs that will educate and hopefully stimulate olive oil’s presence in our current consumers’ minds and entice consumers we have yet to bring into the category to give our product a try.
We’re looking forward to hosting our fourth annual Olive Oil Conference July 10-12 near Chicago. Included in the program will be a fascinating day focusing on the incredible research on the health benefits of polyphenols in extra virgin olive oils, as well as compelling and timely presentations about business issues affecting the industry, including foodservice.
Speaking of foodservice, I am proud to be spearheading an effort to develop a foodservice committee within the NAOOA, seeking to build awareness and educate stakeholders on uses and purity issues in the market segment. We consider this is important next step in assuring that foodservice buyers and chefs get the full value of what they are purchasing and have confidence in what they are using. We hope to kick this off with an open forum to discuss ways to improve the quality and value of the products being consumed.
These and a myriad of other opportunities for growth have us very much looking forward to what the next year will bring.