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Why is olive oil so expensive now? Here’s what to know – National



Why is olive oil so expensive now? Here’s what to know - National

If you’ve noticed higher prices for extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) at the grocery store, you’re probably not alone. The price for the item has skyrocketed in recent months, experts say, due to low supply from poor harvests.

Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of food distribution at Dalhousie University, told Global News that according to his data, the price has gone up 15.2 per cent between January and late March. It now costs on average $16 for a one litre bottle of EVOO in Canada compared to $14 in January.

According to Statistics Canada, one litre of olive oil was around $9 on average in Canada since 2017, until in January 2023 the price broke through $10, and has been on a rise since, going up from $12.81 in October 2023 to $14.81 in November.

“Prices right now are skyrocketing,” Charlebois said. “Some of these changes (in prices) are pretty massive.”

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He said the low supply has everything to do with climate change that has created “unprecedented” weather. Europe has faced droughts for the past three years which have resulted in worsening harvests of olives. Charlebois said there was a huge drought in Portugal, Spain and Greece, which are large producers of EVOO, and the summer was “devastating” for production.

The lower supply has driven the prices up.

He doesn’t expect conditions to improve soon, either, keeping prices high.

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An ode to the health benefits of olive oil

International olive oil expert Fil Bucchino told Global News that Spain’s production of olive oil was down 62 per cent last year. Spain is the biggest producer of the product, so its lower production created “havoc” in pricing worldwide, he said.

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According to Statistica, production of olive oil worldwide went down to 2.31 million metric tonnes in 2023/24 from 2.44 million metric tonnes in 2022/23. That’s down from 3.3 million metric tonnes in 2021/22.

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Bucchino said it has been a terrible harvest for olives the last three years, which happens from September to late December in the northern hemisphere.

“We’re looking at three difficult harvests back to back,” he said, noting overall production has been down 36 per cent the last five years.

“The last year was a perfect storm of a lot of issues.”

He said it was a very cold and wet spring, which created a challenge for the pollination of the trees.

Then it was followed by record-breaking hot temperatures and a drought that caused a lot of the fruit to drop. When there was rain, it was torrential downpours, he said, and since the ground was so dry, it couldn’t absorb the water all at once.

“The ground is basically like concrete,” he said. “Water doesn’t even stay there. It just literally hits it and moves on.”

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Will consumers keep using EVOO if the price is so high? Charlebois says it is more the volatility of prices that drives consumers away, and they may opt for substitutes such as canola or vegetable oil.

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EVOO isn’t going away for good, though.

A mainstay in many European cultures, some countries have reserve supplies of it and Charlebois said many countries will prioritize their domestic markets if supply is low.

Bucchino is even optimistic about the future of olive oil, and said that the higher prices of mass-produced EVOO could send some buyers to the more premium products that may just be a few dollars more.

“You may pay two extra bucks, but the value is about 100 times better,” he said. “(Good olive oil) is fruity. It’s bitter. It’s spicy. It has all these qualities that when you add them to food, they elevate the whole quality of the meal that you’re eating.”

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