Erratic weather in Europe pushing up olive oil prices

Heatwaves and floods in Spain and Italy affect supply as world market demands more

A worker unloads fresh olives from a sack during the harvest. Photograph: Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg via Getty Images

First came zucchini and eggplant shortages. Then iceberg lettuce disappeared from European grocery shelves.

Now erratic weather in Spain and Italy, the world's biggest producers, is rippling through global olive oil markets, and it's about to get worse. Prices for extra virgin olive oil in Italy have soared almost one-third since October to €5.75 a kilogramme, while Spanish costs jumped about 10 per cent, according to the International Olive Council in Madrid.

The forecasters at Mintec Ltd in England see room for even further gains. In Britain olive oil is the most expensive it's been in at least seven years. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is closing six of his Italian restaurants around the country after he said sterling's crash drove up his costs.

“Olive oil is expensive and very much in the hands of nature,” said Oliver. “The really good stuff is worth every penny. You pretty much charge the oil per tablespoon, like you would foie gras or caviar.”


Muggy weather

Hot, muggy weather in Italy attracted olive fruit flies and helped bacteria to flourish, damaging groves. The nation's production is expected to plunge as much as 50 per cent this season. In Greece, last spring's heat waves are poised to cut output by about one-fourth. Floods in Andalusia, Spain's main growing region, ruined its harvest.

At the same time demand is increasing from China and other emerging markets. Spanish producers have had to drain stockpiles to meet export orders, including to the US.

The country imports more than 300,000 tons of olive oil a year, more than half of which comes from Italy and Spain. US consumers have so far enjoyed lower prices thanks to a stronger dollar.

Italian chef Francesco Mazzei, who runs Sartoria in London's Mayfair, says he had to raise prices. "Olive oil is becoming a luxury," said Mazzei.

– Bloomberg