North American Olive Oil Association

Gabriel Estevez
Sovena USA

Since the last Chairman’s Report, the chair has changed two times. The existing chair did not stand for re-election when elections were held last June. The gentlemen who was elected decided just a few short weeks into his term to accept a position at Starbucks. As the newly elected vice chair, I assumed the chairmanship. I have been pleased to work with my fellow executive committee members, Bill Monroe from Pompeian, Marco DeCeglie from Salov, Francesc Sola from Borges and, until his recent resignation, Craig Grantham from Deoleo—along with Bob Bauer (president) and Joseph R. Profaci (executive director).

I am pleased to report the NAOOA has taken important strides in achieving some of the objectives of its strategic plan over the past 12 months. Our two most-important objectives are the establishment of an FDA standard of identity for olive oil and a federal research and promotion order under USDA. Key to achieving both these objectives is garnering support from domestic producers. And we’ve made important strides in that regard.

 As my predecessor, Don Griego, mentioned in the last report, in 2017-18, we started a marketing project in collaboration with the American Olive Oil Producer’s Association. The result of the work was a consumer attitude and usage study which confirmed, among other things, that consumers were confused about olive oil quality, types and usage, and that perceived health benefits remained the clear driver of olive oil sales.

 Most significantly, however, the collaboration with the domestic industry on the research opened up a critical channel of communication between our executive director and AOOPA’s president, Kimberly Houlding. Together, they developed mutual respect and alignment on common goals and objectives for the industry and convinced each other’s association’s members that we should put aside past differences and collaborate on efforts to reverse the stagnation in growth of olive oil consumption in North America.

As a result, we’ve reached a point where we can be cautiously optimistic about persuading the FDA to adopt a standard of identity for olive oil. As an indication of how far we have come, two weeks ago, Joe and Kimberly hosted a conference call to discuss crafting a joint strategy for achieving a standard with both NAOOA’s lobbying firm, Akin Gump, and AOOPA’s lobbying firm, Schramm Williams, on the line. Those two firms, who were literally at each other’s throats over the proposed marketing order several years ago, were able to share a laugh over war stories from that debacle.   

In addition to making headway on the standard, we’re also making progress on the ultimate objective of a research and promotion order. In February, AOOPA invited Joe to give a presentation at its annual meeting (in itself an important step), which was held in Georgia. Joe took the opportunity to re-introduce the NAOOA, making it clear that we shared the same key objectives: promoting quality and transparency while seeking to grow consumption. Part of his presentation included a pitch for future collaboration between the NAOOA and AOOPA on an order; the talk was well-received. We expect once the current push for a standard is completed, we will jointly turn our attention to the research and promotion order.

Meanwhile, the NAOOA has taken steps to tighten the requirements for the use of the NAOOA’s quality seal as well as our association’s labeling practices guidelines to improve transparency and accuracy—including clear limits on phrases such as “bottled in” or “imported from”, which could potentially mislead consumers as to the origin of the oils being sold. Indeed, California Olive Ranch made a strategic decision this year to switch from 100-percent Californian oil in favor of a blend of oils from different countries in their principal product—but included the phrase “Globally Grown, Crafted in California” on the front label. This outraged members of the California industry, including the California Olive Oil Council, who looked to the NAOOA for leadership and requested copies of the NAOOA labeling guide to use a model for its own labeling rules going forward.

On a related topic, we have also been working to shore up the viability of our random testing programs.  Much of the testing the NAOOA does is facilitated through the International Olive Council’s Quality Monitoring Agreement, of which the NAOOA is a signatory association. The IOC is in the process of changing the program to give the signatory associations discretion as to how to enforce any irregularities that are found. The IOC, however, rejected a proposal by the signatory associations to limit the monitoring to physico-chemical analyses.

NAOOA’s efforts to fight fake news have continued unabated. The number of false reports about “fake olive oil” has diminished greatly. To some extent, we believe this may be because we have persuaded the domestic industry that these stories do harm to the entire industry, not just imports. Still, the stories keep coming and we have managed to obtain some key retractions and corrections.  At the same time, however, we have seen an uptick in attacks we presume are coming from outside the industry (perhaps from the seed oil industry), perpetuating the pervasive myth that you cannot cook with olive oil. We’re working on proactive responses to these stories and working with an unlikely partner in the Olive Wellness Institute, based in Australia, where similar misinformation is widespread. 

Our successes this year have been due to the collective actions of members acting as a whole—which is the very meaning of an association. Continued success will be contingent on members acting together to pursue common interests – not independently. We’re looking forward to the year ahead and hope for continued progress towards achievement of our strategic objectives. 

Association of Food Industries: Serving the U.S. Food Import Trade Since 1906
3301 Route 66, Ste. 205, Bldg. C • Neptune, NJ 07753
(732) 922-3008 • Fax: (732) 922-3590 • afius.org • info@afius.org