AU: An outstanding improvement in quality for Australian olives

The quality of Australian produced extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) from the 2017 harvest is arguably the best the industry has ever seen, according to the national peak body.

Each year at the Australian Olive Association’s national competition, which is now international, medals are awarded to oils that reach a prescribed standard. This year there were 194 medals awarded including 49 gold, which was a major increase from 17 awarded in 2016. In addition, the 85 silver medals was up from 47 last year and there were 60 bronze medals, with 77 awarded last time. Almost 90 per cent of entries in the competition received a medal, which Australian Olive Association CEO Greg Seymour says is a tribute to the industry’s focus on quality from grove to bottle.

"If you reflect on the results of the Australian International Olive Award, which is the premier competition in Australia, the really stunning thing was the huge increase in the average award level," he said. "In this competition, it’s not first-second-third, but if you reach a certain level you receive gold, silver and bronze. We had this phenomenal quality shift from bronze level for average across the industry to a high silver level, which is amazing. The industry has been working hard for some years now to continually improve EVOO quality. We have seen incremental improvement over this time but the see a shift to of the magnitude we did this year, just shows what a phenomenal year 2017 was for high quality Australian EVOO."

He adds that it will translate into good news for the Australian consumer.

"If you are a consumer buying a 2017 Australian extra virgin olive oil, you will be sampling the best quality oil that is being produced by the industry," Mr Seymour said. "It is reassuring to know that all the efforts that the industry has put into improving quality for the consumer are showing such outstanding dividends. The industry has a strong certification system in place backed by the Australian Standard. It enables Australians who want to consume the best olive oil to be assured they are getting what they pay for by looking for the certification mark on the bottle or tin."

95 per cent of olive production in Australia is for olive oil, with the remaining five per cent for table olives. This season 120,000 tonnes of olives were harvested, which produced around 20,000 tonnes of olive oil (1.8 million litres), and around 5-6,000 tonnes of table olives. Mr Seymour said all figures were slightly up on last year, despite a few challenges.

"There was a very late harvest in Southern Australia," he said. "There just wasn't enough heat units in late summer and early autumn to raise oil levels sufficiently. So, people had to hang on and hang on as long as they could to get as much oil up in the fruit as possible. So, while production was up, the yield of oil per tonne of fruit was down on the previous year. After many difficult years of sub-economic production for the industry, there has been a welcome and necessary improvement in oil prices for growers in recent times. Wholesale prices have been increasing in the global olive oil market which is pushing local prices up, and good quality Australian EVOO is always in demand on the domestic and international market. The challenge for the industry is producing enough of it while prices firm."

Photo: Elisa and Colin Bertuch of Mt Buffalo Olives

Mr Seymour says there are two things driving strong global sales results. There has been an overall decrease in production in the European Union in the last few years. This has been weather related and resulted in a dramatic reduction in world stocks of EVOO. At the same time, there has been an increase in general consumer demand around the world. 

"This double whammy is producing upward pressure on wholesale prices," he said. "Not only are seeing a deep clearing of olive oil stocks around the world, but also some dramatic shifts in consumer demand. Market growth is not due solely to population growth, but in countries like China, new markets are emerging and driving strong growth as spendable incomes increase for millions of additional people each year. Traditional markets are always going to demand their normal supply volumes. So, firm prices may be with us for a while yet in the global market. In addition to the global price pressure, Australian consumers are continuing to increase extra virgin olive oil consumption so the market dynamics are improving for Aussie growers."

Australia produces about half of the domestic EVOO market requirements, with the other half being imported oils. While the Australia Olive Association CEO admits the industry will not reach total import replacement in the foreseeable future, there is an increasing volume of Australian oils entering the domestic market.

"But how much more market share they gain will depend on many things," he said. "If there are other (export) markets prepared to pay more than domestic suppliers then we may see Aussie EVOO sold offshore, particularly if the Aussie dollar goes down. The other side of the coin will be what happens with EU production and how that impacts global price and the cost of imports. There are a lot of question marks on the table."

He adds that global demand is exciting from an export point of view.

"It's really a price game," Mr Seymour said. "Growers are faced with increasing enquiries from overseas markets. Hardly a day goes by when they don't get an inquiry from China or somewhere else in Asia. We even had one at the AOA the other day from the Middle East. The word is definitely out on the global scale that Australia has very high quality oils. There is increasing demand from all over the place. It really just comes down to the standard issue of where do you get your best return, and what is in the best long term interest of a supplier having a long term, secure profitable market."

Trees are already in flower, with the industry expecting another strong season in 2018.

For more information:
Greg Seymour
Australian Olive Association

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