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Olive oil prices soar after criminals flood market with fakes

Olive oil
Olive oil

Olive oil prices have risen faster than any other food or drink over the past year as authorities tighten restrictions on criminals flooding the market with fakes.

The average price of a one litre bottle of olive oil had reached more than £8 – a 39 per cent increase in the year to March.

Meanwhile, a bottle of higher-quality extra-virgin olive oil can now cost up to £20, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.

Prices have been driven up by poor harvests owing to extreme weather, drought and disease in Mediterranean countries such as Spain and Greece.

Rising demand has also led to criminals exploiting the “liquid gold” industry, with gangs reselling olive oil, sometimes diluted with cheaper ingredients, including sunflower, canola or even lamp oil, on the black market.

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Earlier this week, 450 litres of counterfeit olive oil, which was sold on social media, was seized near Lisbon, Portugal, according to the Food and Economic Security Authority.

Authorities in Spain and Italy working with the Europol law enforcement agency arrested 11 people tied to a criminal gang in November, seizing 12 barrels containing 260,000 litres of olive oil.

Crackdown on criminals

Kyle Holland, a senior reporter for Mintec for the olive oil market, suggested that the crackdown on criminals exploiting the market could also be contributing to rising prices.

“The less supply we have, that increases the prices in even a normal scenario,” he said.

He told The Telegraph that stakeholders were “very worried” about rising prices and that the situation was expected to worsen over the coming months.

“Effectively, prices hit a real peak and then they went down because of better weather and increased supply from Spain. But now it has reversed again and prices have started to go up in the wholesale market.

“The main reason really is that the production this season has not been very good. Last season was more of a disaster, but this season we again have had poor production from Spain and some of the other EU nations that are big suppliers of olive oil as well.

“So there’s very little good-quality olive oil around. The prices are going up for good-quality extra virgins week on week, and as the season goes on these problems are likely to exacerbate.

“People we speak to in the market seem to think the prices are going to continue to move upwards, and of course that impacts the rest of the supply chain as well,” he said.

Walter Zanre, the chief executive of olive oil company Filippo Berio, said he hoped that prices would start to come down for consumers early next year.

“In the high street, UK consumption has declined by approximately 20 per cent as a result of inflation, but given the price of a bottle of olive oil even here it has been unexpectedly resilient,” he said.

“At the moment the prospects for the next Mediterranean olive harvest look positive, so hopefully we will start to see prices ease in early 2025.”