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Hot off the cold presses.

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* Olive oil appeals to foodies and to health enthusiasts. Retailers that offer the right flavors, sources and backstories can succeed with this growing category.

THIS IS AN EXCITING TIME TO BE IN THE OLIVE OIL CATEGORY. It is an ingredient that is growing not only among foodies who want a high quality cooking oil, but is also gaining among consumers who seek antioxidants and shoppers who want interesting foods with a story. Those features are not only driving olive oil sales in grocery stores, but also helping certain areas of the store to thrive.

"The center of the store is really the major concern if you speak to retailers," says Bill Monroe, president of Pompeian, based in Baltimore. "Olive oil is a good category for retailers, and more and more of them are expanding the shelf space."

Monroe says that people who want to prepare healthy meals buy fresh ingredients from the perimeter of the store, then make their way into the center store and buy extra virgin olive oil. To meet the need Pompeian offers three varieties. Robust Extra Virgin Olive Oil is for marinades, pastas and salad dressings. Smooth Extra Virgin Olive Oil is for sauteing, sauces and stir-frying. Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil is available in both a bottle and an eco-friendly spray. All have the USDA Quality Monitored seal and the Non GMO Project Verified seal.

"The consumer has the opportunity to shop for unique flavor, and a great tasting product that will make their dishes taste different," says Monroe. "Olive oil is also a product that is not manufactured. It is basically squeezed from olives and put in a bottle. It is not a processed food."

Pompeian is supporting the products with an advertising program directed at Millennials.

"Millennials are cooking, not to save money, but because they want to have an experience," says Monroe. "We are positioned not as an old fashioned Italian or Spanish company, but as a new olive oil company, even though we've been around 100 years." The company works with farmers in Spain, Greece, Argentina and other countries, and the bottles indicate which farm the olives came from and when they were harvested.

Olive oil appeals to Millennials and to Generation X, says David Neuman, master panel taster and CEO for Gaea North America. Millennials grew up eating in restaurants and are well-travelled. "These younger people are keen to learn more about where their foods come from," he says. "But traditional marketing will not work on them. So specialty brands of olive oil will need to enhance their methods of communicating to this group." Generation X consumers, who generally have better incomes than the younger shoppers, also buy olive oil because these are consumers who accept new ideas, have embraced organic foods and are eager to learn more about food.

Gaea, based in Athens, Greece with U.S. operations in Hollywood, Fla., offers educational materials to dispel certain myths. For example, the color of the olive oil does not tell the shopper anything about the flavor or quality. Bitterness and pepperiness of olive oil are positive characteristics because they indicate the presence of healthful polyphenols. Shoppers who want to buy single-source olive oil should read labels to make sure the product is not a "Mediterranean blend" of bulk commodity market oils from Italy, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey, etc.

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Olive oil can be expensive and price is always a factor. To help ease the burden, Gaea is launching a value line. The items are Gaea Virgin Olive Oil, Gaea Sitia Roots DOP Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Gaea Sitia Roots Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil. All are 100 percent Greek olive oil and they build on the success of Gaea 100 percent Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

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"Gaea's new line allows retail buyers to refresh their shelves with fully traceable, non-fraudulent oils, while not shocking their shoppers too soon with higher priced specialty olive oils," says Neuman. "With entry-priced positioning, Gaea Virgin Olive Oil is a wonderful alternative to cooking with lower quality extra virgin olive oils or vegetable oils."

Flavor is also important, as is healthfulness. The Olive Fruit, based in Holliston, Mass., offers Kiklos Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 100 percent natural Greek Koroneiki Olive Oil made in small batches from single-sourced authentic Koroneiki Olives harvested at the peak of ripeness. Company officials say the oil has a powerful and peppery finish. "When you do taste it by the spoon it is nice and mild at first, and then you get a peppery crescendo, which we call the Kiklos kick," says Jonathan Basset, co-founder of The Olive Fruit. "That's how you know the antioxidants are working."

Industry observers say the flavor and aroma can help drive sales. Basset says he offers samples to new retailers so they can try the olive oil, and also so they can offer samples to their customers.

Consumers want not only to taste the oil but they want to know its story. Basset says olive oil is similar to wine, in that people want to know about the fruit, the geography and other source details. For example, the olives for Kiklos Olive Oil are harvested without machines, to prevent damaging the trees. The olives are cold pressed at below the industry standard of 27 degrees Celsius. The bottle is covered with a white label to shield the oil from light, and there is a window at the bottom of the bottle so shoppers can see the oil. Kiklos also uses Greek Koroneiki olives; a variety the company says has a high antioxidant content and is known as the "Queen of Olives."

"We do not blend it," says Basset. "A lot of companies these days make cheaper olive oils blended with other olive oils and other oils, that don't taste as good."

Sometimes consumers want a little variety in their flavors. That is especially true of people who like to cook, says Tom Stevens, founder and president of extraVagonzo Gourmet Foods, based in Boise, Idaho. "These days being a foodie is in," he says. "People are cooking fresh foods for their friends, and it is a growing form of entertainment."

The company offers infused culinary oils such as Roasted Garlic, Blood Orange, Meyer Lemon and Red Chili. "One of the neat things is olive oil is specified in so many recipes," says Stevens. "Flavored oils are an easy way to improve the flavor when used as a cooking oil."

Stevens agrees that sampling is a great way to encourage consumers to buy a specific olive oil. In addition to letting people taste the different flavors, he also likes to suggest ways to use the oils. "I continually get the question, 'What do I do with these?"' he says. "The Roasted Garlic and Red Chili are good on virtually everything, seafood, steak, spuds and eggs in the morning. The Meyer Lemon is really nice on seafood, salad, veggies and fruit salad." He adds that the oils are good on desserts, such as drizzling the Blood Orange oil on vanilla ice cream.

Sales of olive oil are growing. According to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm, for the 52 weeks ended May 15, sales of olive oil totaled more than $1.1 billion, up six percent compared to the same period the previous year. Unit sales totaled more than 151.2 million, up 3.9 percent.

The future is bright, says Monroe. "We believe that the olive oil category will continue to grow," he says. "It's grown for the last 20 years, and we believe it will for the next 20."

Neuman says changes will come to the category within the next three years. He believes the USDA will regulate the olive oil category as they did with organics, a move that will enable consumers to buy only properly labeled olive oil. He also says prices will continue to grow as the demand for quality increases, a change that will help retailers grow category dollars and margins. "I see olive oil moving from a commodity to a destination category," he says.

Private label olive oil sales totaled more than $337.4 million, up 6.2 percent compared to the previous year, according to IRI. Catania Spagna Corp., based in Ayer, Mass., recently developed what company officials say is the first National Brand Equivalent olive oil bottle in PET plastic bottles in the marketplace. "As retailers move from glass bottles to PET plastic bottles for private label olive oil we knew there was a need to match the national brands in bottle style," says Samantha Seidl, sales and marketing coordinator for Catania Spagna. "By offering PET plastic bottles there is tremendous savings in freight due to the reduced weight of the case as well as reduced damages, both in trucking and at store level."

While savings are important, Seidl says freshness, not price, is the most important attribute to consider. "The biggest question facing consumers today is, 'When was that olive oil pressed and when was it bottled?"' she says. "Olive oil is the exact opposite of wine in that once the oil is pressed there is a short window of time to enjoy not only the powerful flavor of the oil but also the health benefits. It does not get better over time."

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Title Annotation:CENTER STORE
Author:Caley, Nora
Publication:Grocery Headquarters
Date:Aug 1, 2016
Words:1554
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