By Richard Thompson
Retailers looking for any supply increases or price stabilization for Italian olive oil are most likely not going to find it this year. The dismal 2014 harvest of Italian olive oil lowered levels of production and increased costs to retailers and consumers from a combination of conditions that have no immediate solutions and probably won’t be resolved in the near future.
David Neuman, CEO of Gaea, North America, LLC and who has worked previously with Lucini Italia has seen problems with Italian oil harvests for years and sees the industry working on borrowed time. “Every single year there’s a problem,” Neuman said, “Every year there are good harvests and bad harvests, but southern Italy is getting pummeled [by Olive Quick Decline Syndrome], and the last harvest was like a perfect storm. Too many combinations that came together.”
So what is plaguing Italian farmers and oil producers on such a dismal scale? Basically, everything that could harm production is happening all at once.
Italy had a terrible rainy season last year and olive flies had infested compromised crops, but the Olive Quick Decline Syndrome (OQDS), a bacterial infection that withers and desiccates the tree shoots, is now spreading across the province of Lecce, leaving Italian officials unsure on how to resolve the problem.
First reported at the end of September 2013 by the Italian government’s Plant Health Directorate in Malta, OQDS was already considered an epidemic in the Italian province of Lecce, with more than 8000 hectares of olive orchards affected, but a declaration that OQDS was responsible for olive tree deaths was deferred pending further study.
The Italian Trade Commissioner agrees with this non-committal stance, even while acknowledging the growing blight caused by OQDS. “We feel the authorities have to further investigate the bacteria and its effects that are a cause for concern” said Pier Paolo Celeste, Italian Trade Commissioner and Executive Director for the NY offices in the US, “It is not entirely proven yet.”
The ITC believes that the Xylella fastidiosa bacterium – the cause for OQDS – may not be what is making the olive trees sick. Instead, they believe that it is only a component that must be activated by right conditions to harm the trees, leaving the olive fruit still safe for consumption. “We know for sure that the quality of the fruit is intact,” Celeste said, “It attacks the tree itself, but does not affect the quality of the olive oil produced. It is absolutely safe.”
Some Italian non-government organizations, such as Peacelink, are pushing to save the trees infected by OQDS. The organization has requested the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), an independent organization that advises the European Union, to confirm that the bacterium is not the cause of olive tree death. Peacelink points to trees that have survived and rebounded after the orchards have been treated, but hasn’t been able to provide enough proof to be sure.
The EFSA is saying that X. fastidiosa is a new problem for Italian olive trees and doesn’t seem to need specific conditions in order to spread, so there’s no concrete plan that is sure to succeed that will stop the spread. Since X. fastidiosa has such as wide range of hosts, it can persist even with insecticide treatments on specific host crops – such as olive trees.
On top of that, there is no record of successful eradication of X. fastidiosa once it finds a home outdoors. The destruction of olive trees that have been infected is one of the only ways to contain the spread of the blight, an action the Italian government is reluctant to approve and Peacelink outright opposes.
Despite their qualms, the Italian government has already culled an estimated 700,000 olive trees, with some reports indicating the number closer to 1 million or more. Some of these trees were between 150 and 200 years old.
The acreage that was culled was immediately replanted with new precautions in place to prevent further spread. This new crop of olive trees is hoped to be back in production in about three to four years.
“We are actively seeking out viable solutions,” Celeste said, “It is something that is being vigorously studied by our authorities; as it represents a unique challenge.”
The production will certainly not be back to normal in 2015. Neither will prices.
The Italian Trade Commission Office confirms that 2014′s limited production did affect prices. A recent report by the International Olive Council (IOC), an independent organization that reports on the olive industry annually, stated that Italian production actually declined 55 percent and prices climbed by as much as 37 percent from 2013. The IOC is currently projecting that Italy’s 2015 olive oil production will be larger than 2014′s, but still significantly below normal.
Arthur Schuman Inc., an importer and distributor of domestic hard cheeses, has partnered with the Greek Company Dodoni SA, establishing the company as the exclusive importer and distributor of Dodoni SA Products in the U.S. Dodoni is widely recognized around the world for its P.D.O. (Protected Destination of Origin) feta cheese and other Greek dairy products. The partnership between the two dairy companies provides the U.S. market with widespread access to these premium authentic Greek products.
“As a company that prides itself on importing the best cheeses and working with the strongest and most sustainable companies, Dodoni SA is a natural fit for us,” explained Neal Schuman, President and Owner of Arthur Schuman, a fourth generation family business. “We believe Dodoni, and particularly its P.D.O. feta cheese, will thrive in the US market.”
Dodoni cheese and dairy products are currently available for order from Arthur Schuman and requests from customers across retail, foodservice and industrial markets may be placed starting immediately. The products will be available at major club stores with national reach, with additional outlets to follow.
Arthur Shuman and its distribution network will be targeting all channels of distribution, in particular those customers who demand and appreciate the best quality cheeses.
Kontos Foods, Inc. will be exhibiting its Flatbread and Fillo pastry products at the SIAL Canada International Food & Beverage Tradeshow at the Palais des Congrès de Montréal from April 2 through April 4. Kontos will be located at Booth #801 in the USA Pavilion.
Kontos Foods, which offers over 50 varieties of flatbreads, will be showcasing several products, including its Pocket-Less Pita®, the traditional pita of the Eastern Mediterranean, and NEW Greek Lifestyle Flatbread, which has twice the protein, half the carbohydrates and less calories and sugar than other flatbreads. Show visitors will also be able to check out Kontos’ Asian Nans, Pan Plano – infused with the spicy flavors of Mexico – Panini breads and cocktail flatbreads, as well as a variety of fillo products.
“SIAL Canada is the perfect showcase to demonstrate the depth and breadth of Kontos’ products,” said Steve Kontos, Vice President of Kontos Foods. “Many of the flatbreads we’ll be bringing to the show have French-language packaging specifically designed for the Quebec market.”
SIAL Canada is co-located with SET Canada, the National Food Equipment and Technology Tradeshow. The shows, which cater to North American food-industry professionals, host 14,000 professional visitors from 61 countries and 750 exhibitors from 45 countries. SIAL Canada runs Wednesday, April 2 and Thursday, April 3 from 10 am to 6 pm, and on Friday, April 4 from 10 am to 4 pm. For more information about SIAL Canada, visit www.congresmtl.com
Kontos sells its products to retailers and foodservice establishments across North America and several other countries. Find Kontos on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Kontosfoods and follow the company on Twitter @KontosFoods.
Chobani announced today it will donate more than 5,000 cups of fresh Greek yogurt originally intended for Team USA athletes competing in Sochi, Russia, to food banks in New York and New Jersey.
“As a proud supporter of Team USA over the past four years, we’re disappointed our athletes won’t be able to enjoy Chobani while they compete in the games as we all hoped, and are deeply appreciative to everyone who tried to help get it there, especially Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand and various officials here at home,” said Hamdi Ulukaya, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Chobani. “It’s been a long, cold winter and we’re happy incredible organizations in New York and New Jersey, who share our vision to provide nutritious foods, will be able to serve fresh cups of Chobani to those in need. We’ll be waiting for our athletes when they come home while cheering them on every step of the way,” he added.
As the official yogurt of the 2014 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams, chefs and nutritionists serve Chobani to athletes at the U.S. Olympic Training Centers. To naturally power Team USA and provide food they enjoy from home, Chobani intended to deliver 5,000 fresh single-serve cups of blueberry, strawberry and peach Chobani, and multi-serve containers of plain Chobani yogurt for smoothies, to Team USA athletes in Sochi.
For years, Chobani has frequently donated products to organizations in New York and Idaho and through its foundation is actively focused on making good food more accessible to all, especially youth and underserved communities. Since Chobani’s earliest days, it has made a pledge to give 10 percent of its profits to charity and supports grassroots organizations all over the world. Chobani will deliver the 5,000-plus units of fresh Greek yogurt intended for Team USA to food banks in New Jersey and New York City.