Spain Tightens Rules For Bottled Olive Oil!

This is one of the most interesting articles on olive oil for 2013!  It was published by The New York Times on December 30th 2013, and a printed version was available on December 31st 2013.

For those of you that would like to read the whole article, the link is:

For those of you that prefer the condensed version, I have selected the key points bellow.  

In Spain, the restaurants and cafes have a small bottle of olive oil on each table that the customer(s) can use with their meal.  That bottle has traditionally been without a label.  It is to the judgement of the owner of the store to choose the quality of  the olive oil he uses.  

In the beginning of January 2014 a new law took effect in Spain and all the restaurants and cafes are now required to have a labelled bottle of olive oil instead of the generic one.  Bellow, I have summarized the opinions of all the organizations and individuals that were interviewed concerning this matter.

The Spanish olive oil producers and Government believe the law will:

  • Improve food hygiene
  • Help them build stronger recognition for their brands
  • Boost sales and exports because of the brand recognition 

The Northern European Countries (Germany) believe the law:

  • Will create higher costs and more waste
  • Is not necessary

UK Prime Minister believes:

  • This is the area that EU has to stay out off

The Hotels of Spain believe the law:

  • Is not necessary
  • Will increase the cost of olive oil 3 to 5 times at the Cafes!

The upmarket establishments (which means high end restaurants) believe the law will:

  • Help raise the reputation of Spanish gastronomy

One group of customers at a Cafe in Madrid believe the new law:

  • Is not necessary, since they have never gotten sick from olive oil
  • Will create higher cost


My thoughts and comments on the article.   

The olive oil war in Spain!  Perhaps I should say Europe, since both Germany and Britain had something to say about it.  I feel especially heated up about this article because when I was in Greece in May 2013, EU was discussing pushing the law to take effect throughout Europe.  And I will admit that I was excited about it.  How could I not be.  I am an olive grower in Greece with over 13000 olive trees under my management.  I go to a lot of trouble to produce the highest quality EVOO by harvesting at the proper time, pressing immediately after the harvest day, controlling the temperature and storing my products in the appropriate environment.  On the other hand, there are growers who are not paying as much attention to their products, but when we both try to sell our olive oil in bulk, without a label, we get the same price.  If, however,  the restaurants and other food businesses are pushed to use only labelled olive oil, it will be easier for the high end EVOO brands to be recognized.  So, do I see a benefit in the new law that Spain imposes within it's borders?  ABSOLUTELY!  I firmly believe they will:

  • Improve food hygiene
  • Help build stronger recognition for their brands
  • Boost sales and exports because of the brand recognition 
  • Improve the quality of their product on a national level

Of course, one could ask:  how about the higher cost that will come along with this change?  The new law will create slightly higher cost (about 30%) for the restaurants and the cafes, but not for the end consumer!  If each customer in that cafe consumes 1.5 oz of olive oil with their meal, it will cost the restaurant $0.09 more to feed that customer.  So, I think, if a restaurant raises it's prices because of the olive oil law, they were simply looking for an excuse.

Concerning the rest of the comments on the article, it seems interesting to me that northern European Countries find the new law in Spain "not necessary".  Perhaps they are trying to protect the interests of larger corporations, who have standardized the quality of their olive oil to a certain (medium) level and they do not want to allow small grower brands to emerge.  As far as the British Prime Minister is concerned, I do not even understand why anyone would ask his opinion on an olive oil law.  Finally, the position of the Hotels is understandable, because due to the competition they are facing, their profit margin is very limited and they cannot easily justify an increase on the price of the commodities they use, even when we are talking about olive oil.  But then again, they do not have to use the best olive oil either! 

I hope my Greece would step up and adopt a law like that.  It is worth mentioning that over 80% of the olive oil that is produced in my country is Extra Virgin.  Furthermore, 70% of the exported Greek EVOO goes to Italy in 50 Ton tanks.  Nothing illegal about that, but there is definitely an issue!  That excellent Greek EVOO will reach the market under an Italian brand.  Please, do not take me wrong, I have nothing against the Italians.  On the contrary, I deeply admire them.  They recognized the value of Extra Virgin Olive Oil long before Spain and Greece and they established laws to protect it.  

Please, feel free to share your comments and thoughts on this!