Days after our August edition was released, a class-action lawsuit was filed against a host of olive oil companies and U.S.-based grocery chains, seeking restitution for fraudulent distribution and marketing of adulterated product claiming to be extra virgin olive oil. The action taken by a southern California law firm made the nightly news on the major broadcast networks, front page news in major city newspapers, and blanketed internet news cycles. Anyone who pays close attention to food-related stories, especially health-related updates, has seen the topline details of this suit cross their transom. The result: olive oil finally gets its very own, very high-profile media cycle.
The lawsuit followed closely on the heels of a recently released research study by the University of California Davis Olive Center that exposed much higher levels of inaccurate product classifications than had been documented in the past. While the study’s findings are disputed by the very producers who seek to lose the most in this battle, thus far the research has served its purpose and more. It has demonstrated the long-held, but not widely known, belief that a good deal of olive oil on American grocery shelves is not all it is cracked up to be. The result: a research report designed to inform a relatively small industry goes viral.
The third piece of this tsunami of industry activity is the soon-to-be implemented new USDA guidelines for proper classifications of olive oil that will take effect next month on October 24, 2010. After many years of diligent pursuit to bring the USDA’s olive oil definitions into the 21st century, domestic producers and U.S. consumers will finally have some measure of control over olive oil marketing and sales. The result: unknown; but this voluntary program would probably have gone quietly into a slow roll-out were it not for other events that are likely to bring it to the forefront of media attention.
According to Wikipedia, “the perfect storm” describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically – and usually not for the best. In this case, it may be just the opposite. While those involved in each of these events may never have imagined they could have a fundamentally-transformative impact on the olive oil industry, if luck holds out, this perfect storm may be just what it takes for the worldwide industry to sail into a new decade of healthy business ethics.