Israeli Olive Growers Discover That Thinking Small Can Deliver Big Results
Boutique olive-oil producers gain popularity in Israel, but cheap imported oil—often lower quality—threatens the fledgling industry
“There definitely is a crisis in the Israeli olive-oil industry,” admitted Li-or Avnon Solan, spokesperson for the Israeli Olive Board. “One of the main reasons is imported olive oil from Europe, which is sold at very low prices. Imported olive oil is cheaper because Spain and other countries subsidize their manufacturing, while the Israeli government doesn’t, but it is also cheaper because often the imported olive oil is of poor quality or sold past its expiration date or very close to it. When people see cheap imported olive oil next to the checkout counter at the supermarket they are tempted to buy it, since they don’t know that it might be of poor quality and therefore devoid of any nutritional value, or maybe even spoiled or fake.”
The board issues a stamp of approval to help guide consumers; only brands that manufacture 100 percent Israeli olive oil—meaning that the olive trees are grown on Israeli soil (which, for the board’s purposes, includes the West Bank and the Golan) and the oil is manufactured (and not only bottled) in the country—are eligible to be considered at all. Today there are 156 manufacturers who have received the stamp of approval: 90 small manufacturers, 50 medium-sized, and 16 big ones. (Ptora, Goren, and Alzitun all bear the board’s sticker on their bottles.)
Fraudulent manufacturers hurt not only the consumer but also the small presses. Ptora’s Ido Tamir says his business has been adversely affected by the glut of cheap, imported oil, but he is optimistic that Israeli consumers are becoming more aware of the difference between high-quality olive oil and imitations and are willing to pay the price for good products: “When buying from small boutique manufacturers there is more of a guarantee, and people are starting to understand that,” he said, although he admits that sometimes small manufacturers falsify their products, too: “Whoever wants to deceive can do so easily, and ultimately the only way to know for sure is to check the oil in a lab. But the Olive Board’s supervision is very strict, so if the consumer sees their stamp of approval on a bottle, that’s a good guarantee that it is in fact high-quality olive oil. My recommendation is to always buy from a reliable source, where you see the people who are making your olive oil.”
Thanks to the annual olive festival going on right now, it’s easier than ever for Israeli consumers to do exactly that.
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