Stronger standards will build consumer confidence: North American Olive Oil Association

NAOOA Chief Executive, Joseph R. Profaci calls for stronger standards to build consumer confidence
NAOOA Executive Director, Joseph R. Profaci

The executive director of the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA), Joseph R. Profaci, has called for stronger standards to ‘build consumer confidence in delicious and healthy olive oil’.

He said that olive oil, a staple of the Mediterranean diet, is one of the healthiest things grocery shoppers can put in their carts. Not only does olive oil help people maintain a healthy weight, it has been shown to decrease risk factors for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke and certain types of cancer. It’s one of the healthiest fats around, and it happens to be a delicious and versatile food, with a broad range of flavours that can suit anyone’s palate.

Sensational media claims don’t enhance consumer confidence

Writing in FoodDive, Profaci said that while the media has done a great job of touting the health benefits of olive oil, it has fallen short in making sensational claims that are either not based in sound science or are outright fake news. The idea that fake olive oil is pervasive, for instance, or that people can test whether their olive oil is authentic by putting it in the refrigerator, are examples of the false and misleading information that have become all too common.

He said that while such articles may purport to help consumers be more discerning in the grocery aisle, the reality is they needlessly confuse and mislead readers. The growth in olive oil consumption in the United States decreased dramatically after these stories started coming out. The unfortunate result is that the consumers who avoid olive oil because they are worried they won’t get the real thing are missing out on the health benefits that olive oil provides.

Tougher standards will provide greater confidence

The NAOOA hopes that toughening its already rigorous standards and labeling requirements will help consumers better understand the product they’re buying and have confidence in its integrity. The enhancements, which for the most part reflect business practices already voluntarily adopted by its members, include:

  • Best-by dates, which are the easiest way for consumers to gauge freshness, are now required on every NAOOA member label. The NAOOA has adopted a maximum best-by date of two years from the time of processing or bottling, which is even stricter than IOC requirements. Dan Flynn, executive director of the UC Davis Olive Center, will discuss this timely topic more at the NAOOA’s upcoming 4th annual Olive Oil Conference.
  • “Imported from” or “Packed or bottled in” statements must now be immediately adjacent to the country-of-origin statement. This helps consumers understand where the olives for the oil were grown.
  • Blends of olive oil with other oils, which were already required to carry descriptive names or phrases, must now have even clearer, more informative language on member labels.
  • Clearer recommendations for storage and usage will appear on all member labels, helping consumers prolong the shelf life of their olive oil, which can deteriorate with exposure to heat, light and air.
  • Organic products that participate in the NAOOA Quality Seal Programmust submit copies of organic certification documents from certifying agents authorized under the National Organic Program (NOP) or by another certification body recognized by NOP to carry “organic” on their labels.

The media must fight misinformation

Profaci said that the food industry and the journalists who report on it should start by providing consumers with up-to-date, unbiased, independent and thoroughly vetted sources of information. He said that while there is a lot of confusing information out there about olive oil, we should strive to give consumers the tools to choose with confidence, based on what tastes best to them and fits their budget.