The price of extra virgin olive oil rose within a single year from around 400 euros to 800 euros per 100 kg.
At first glance, there doesn't seem to be anything in common between Rosa, a retiree in Madrid, and Thomas, an amateur cook in Hamburg. But when they go to the supermarket and reach the olive oil shelves, their reaction is the same: they roll their eyes and exclaim “it's not possible!” The price of oil has skyrocketed.
“And then many wonder why people are eating more and more unhealthy,” says the 85-year-old Spaniard. For his part, Thomas (56) believes that the way things are going, “in the future olive oil will probably only be used in salads”.
“Green gold” is becoming more and more expensive because the supply is becoming more and more limited. Spain is by far the largest producer of olive oil in the world. However, annual harvests, which in previous years averaged 1.5 million tonnes, accounting for almost 50% of global production, almost doubled in the 2022/23 season (665,000 tonnes). This decline is mainly due to the adverse weather conditions – in particular the great lack of rainfall. And for this year, the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture expects only a small recovery.
Oil theft in Spain and Greece
Reduced production combined with increased costs is having an impact: the price of extra virgin olive oil rose in a single year from around 400 euros to 800 euros per 100 kilos.
A few years ago the corresponding price in Spain was just over 200 euros. The situation is similar in other countries that are important producers of olive oil, such as Italy and Greece.
Due to the rapid increase in prices, more and more thieves are suddenly turning to olive oil. In Andalusia more than 80,000 liters were stolen during the summer months alone. As the newspaper El Mundo recently wrote, producers are very afraid of the “liquid gold pirates”.
In Greece, the theft of olives and olive oil is also increasing, according to the olive producer Giorgos Papadakis. “Thefts are not as big as in Spain, but here if someone steals 200 kilos of good quality oil from a farmer, they have effectively stolen €2,000 in one night.” That is why in Spain and Greece the oil and olives in tanks, warehouses and sometimes in stores are now stored better.
In Spain, however, farmers have to deal with a significant drop in demand – many traditional businesses were forced to close this year. The secretary general of the Union of Growers and Cattle Breeders of Andalusia (UPA), Cristóbal Cano, warns that “olive crops are threatened by an unrepeatable economic and social disaster” – a sector that employs around 365,000 people in Spain.
< strong>Problems in Italy, Greece and Turkey
The crisis also affects Italy. Production is constantly decreasing, while prices continue to rise – according to the association Coldiretti, the increase in prices this year has reached 50%. The head of the Unaprol olive growers' association, David Granieri, is citing an “unprecedented situation”. Italy is one of the countries with the largest oil consumption.
This year it is estimated that the country will produce around 290,000 tons of olive oil. In order not to depend on imports, the government in Rome plans to cultivate more than a million new olive groves.
In Greece, again, there are hundreds of large and countless small and medium-sized growers who produce up to 330,000 tons – only they produce year after year, because every second year the olives “rest”. That is why the harvest is limited in 2023.
In neighboring Turkey there are also problems. The Commerce Department reported in August that records had been set: production and exports rose significantly. Turkish exporters reacted to increased demand from abroad and increased supply. However, for most Turks this was not good news: for them the available olive oil was less and more expensive. Meanwhile, a ban on exports has come into effect.
In Germany the crisis is also being felt. “In October 2023, consumer prices for cold-pressed and conventionally produced olive oil were 54% higher compared to the same period last year,” Thomas Ells told the German News Agency.
The researcher at AMI (Agricultural Market Information Company) reports that during the second half of this year the demand for olive oil was lower than for similar products, such as sunflower oil. This is also due to the fact that the price of sunflower oil has decreased, increasing its price difference from olive oil even more.
The heat waves affect the production
In all countries farmers blame the most frequent extreme weather events. As for example in Greece, where due to adverse weather conditions the trees had no time to rest at all, as explained by agronomist Vassilis Mouselimis. Then the temperatures in the spring were particularly high, as a result of which the harvests were affected. In addition, it did not rain enough, which limited the growth of lion trees.
The temperatures are also high in Spain, even during autumn. 59-year-old José Guilabert has been working since he was 13 in the olive groves of Andalusia. “It used to be cooler at the end of August,” he tells El País newspaper. “And now we pick the olives in November still wearing short sleeves”.