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First, the US Conquered Wine. Now Olive Oil?


A new government study will analyze the United States' burgeoning olive oil industry.

MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL If we, as Americans, look back on the past decade and take away one thing we've learned about ourselves, it might as well be this: We have an insatiable appetite for olive oil. Yes, US consumption of the golden-green culinary staple has flourished since 2002, according to the US House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee.

While the most recent session of Congress left the crucial 2012 Farm Bill dead on the table, it did see the House Committee giving the US International Trade Commission (USITC) one particular order: Initiate an investigation into the United States' "global competitiveness" in the commercial olive oil industry. This is according to a recent press release from the USITC.

In a letter to the Committee, the USITC -- a non-partisan, fact-finding organization -- gives a brief overview of the domestic olive oil sector.

The US commercial olive oil industry has grown rapidly over the last decade, employing modern agriculture technologies and research to capture the growing domestic demand for olive oil....US consumption of olive oil has increased approximately 40% in the past ten years. Although domestic production has increased, the vast majority of US consumption is satisfied by imports.

The results of this study will likely confirm what's already clear: The US ranks toward the lower-end as a competitor in the global olive oil market.

Data collected by the International Olive Council shows the United States is tied with Egypt as the world's 19th largest olive oil producer. The world's top three olive oil producers -- Spain, Italy, and Greece, respectively -- were responsible for 2.14 million tons of olive oil in 2011, or, approximately three-fourths of global olive oil production.

This past year, Spain -- the world's largest olive oil exporter, followed by Italy, and then Tunisia -- suffered a devastating drought, which has driven up the wholesale price of olive oil 62%, reports The Guardian. Walter Zarne, the Managing Director of Spain's Filippo Berio (one of the world's most recognizable olive oil brands and the UK's biggest supplier) has said the his company's losses are too large to be absorbed internally, and will have to be passed on to the consumer.

One of Filippo Berio's major competitors is Italy's 150-year-old olive oil maker Bertolli, which produces a line of pasta sauces and ready-made dishes as well. In 2008, Unilever (NYSE:UN) sold the Bertolli olive oil brand to Spain's second largest food processor, Grupo SOS; then in June 2012, Unilever unloaded its remaining Bertolli properties when it sold Bertolli's frozen meals unit to ConAgra Foods (NYSE:CAG).
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