Spain, the world’s largest producer of olive oil, faces the prospect of running out of extra virgin olive oil in the coming months. According to industry figures seen by Urban Food Chains, forecasts for worldwide consumption of olive oil are expected to drop from 3.1 million tonnes to 2.9 million tonnes in the current campaign. There is a potential shortfall of 745,000 tonnes worldwide.
The Spanish industry invested heavily in extensive tree plantings around the turn of the century, with enough trees and crushing capacity to produce one and a half million tonnes of olive oil in a season. But the 2022-3 crop was a poor crop and down by over 50 percent against the previous campaign. This year a lot of flowers set on the trees, but like last year, the trees are stressed and are shedding the fruit.
With total olive oil stocks across the Spanish industry hovering at just over 607,000 tonnes, the sector faces empty tanks later this year. Domestic consumer demand is strong and April sales in Spain topped 63,000 tonnes. With at least six months to go before the next harvest comes onstream, Spanish consumers will be competing with exporters for physical stocks of olive oil.
Demand is strong and prices are high but expected to go up even further. Assuming that Spanish consumers ease up on their purchases of olive oil, which is not a given, a 5% drop in month on month sales volumes would represent a requirement of just over 277,000 tonnes between now and the next crop. The Spanish industry delivers shiploads of olive oil around the world and all over Europe by tanker truck. Exports as of around 50,000 tonnes a month would empty the country’s remaining stocks by November.
Like any other crop-driven commodity, there is a numbers game in play and prices will rise steeply to head off strong demand. Retail margins will come under pressure as physical product becomes harder to obtain. The EU has trade deals with north African producers, who can ship quota tonnages that member states can draw down with zero duty. Should any of this third country olive oil be packed for the UK market, even in a blended product, Rules Of Origin (ROO) would apply on arrival at the UK frontier, where duty would be charged on the non-EU content.
But the underlying concern has to be the drying out of water tables across a huge swathe of southern Europe and the Mediterranean basin. Olive trees have deep roots, but not deep enough, it might seem. In Spain, the planting of thousands of trees has propped up crop yields most years, but not all. This year’s forecast being a case in point.