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Top 3 Factors Separating a World-Class Olive Oil from a Ho-Hum Olive Oil

Bill Monroe, the marketing innovation director for Pompeian Inc., says the quality of olive oil starts at the source.

The Retail & Hospitality Hub recently caught up with Bill Monroe, the marketing innovation director for Pompeian Inc., a Baltimore-based company founded in 1906 that produced America’s first national brand of imported extra virgin olive oil. Pompeian offers full lines of olive oil and vinegar. We talked to Monroe about trends in the olive oil industry.

R&HH: What are the top 3 differentiating factors that separate a world-class olive oil from a ho-hum olive oil?

Monroe: With so much variety in the olive oil category, it’s important to understand what differentiates one olive oil from another. There are many claims, brands and quality descriptors behind any one bottle, which can be overwhelming for retail partners and, in turn, the consumers in that store. When evaluating what makes a world-class olive oil, it’s the brands that are backed by quality, innovation and best-in-class sourcing that rise to the top.

In this category, quality starts at the source — the olive groves and farmers, so it’s important to consider where that bottle of olive oil came from and who is behind it. Pompeian is a farmer-owned company, and each of our olive oils are expertly crafted by a team of master craftsmen who oversee everything from cleaning and pressing hundreds of thousands of olives a day to maintaining operations at the olive mills.

Being harvested in regions all over the world, not all olives are the same. Just like the varieties of grapes that exist for wine, there are also thousands of varieties of olives that can be sourced from groves far and wide. Pompeian has a unique sourcing model that allows us to source olives from the best groves across the globe, taking those different batches of olives and blending them to a consistent taste and quality regardless of the crop and time of year.

Innovation has also taken precedence in the olive oil category, especially in recent months as home cooks are learning more skills and cooking in their kitchens more than ever before. Helping shoppers understand the different types of olive oils and how they are used for different cooking occasions is a vital part of the olive oil experience. Pompeian now offers nine taste profiles of olive oils, spanning from “light taste” to “bold,” each with clear cooking occasions in mind, including sautéing, grilling, dipping and more so that there’s an olive oil for every palate and recipe.

R&HH: What are today’s consumers looking for in olive oil?

Monroe: We’re seeing that olive oil sales over the last year have really flourished as people lean into at-home cooking and adopt more plant-based ingredients and foods that provide functional health benefits. With the increase in olive oil usage over the last year, we’ve noticed that shoppers are looking for olive oil that meets their unique usage occasions and taste preferences. A big challenge that exists in the olive oil aisle today that we are helping retailers overcome is consumer confusion on which olive oil is best for specific recipes and cooking occasions, as well as confusion surrounding the taste that shoppers can expect from each bottle.

R&HH: What are the reasons why olive oil consumption is rising in the U.S.?

Monroe: Olive oil sales have really climbed over the last year. According to market researcher Nielsen, olive oil sales were up 26.5% in 2020. Pompeian sales were up 35.9%. While there are many factors contributing to the increased sales, we see the rise deeply rooted in our consumer’s desire for better health and increased understanding of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. As more and more people adopt the principles of the Mediterranean diet and learn about the powerful health benefits of olive oil, a flood of new consumers have flocked to olive oil, one of the original superfoods. On top of that, home cooks who already know the benefits of olive oil are buying more than ever before, in part because they’re finding so many more occasions to use it and employ its properties to improve their overall health.

R&HH: Do you think that retailers, by and large, do a good job of educating consumers about olive oil? How can they do better?

Monroe: While retailers are doing their part in education about olive oil, it’s also the responsibility of olive oil brands to give retailers and shoppers the resources, tools and products to do better. It’s our hope that our expanded olive oil and extra virgin olive oil collection boosts consumer confidence in the aisle and offers home cooks a product for every unique taste preference and cooking occasion.