February 05, 2006
Olive oil producers from all over the globe flocked to the food show this January in Moscone Center, San Francisco.
We always try to look at the big picture and see what's hot and what's not. Ginger and Loquat were out this year, but fruit flavored waters and drinks were still big, including bush tea, chai and maté types. Energy drinks were not as big this year. Asian influences were ascendant. Hurricane Katrina must have jogged everyone's brain into Cajun territory; muffuletta mix was everywhere an olive was.
A record number of foreign olive oil producers bought booths outside of the "Country Aisles" to try to get a piece of the US Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil market. Companies from Italy, Greece, Turkey, Chile, Lebanon, Argentina, Israel, Spain, Australia and New Zealand were signing up distributors, selling cases of oil to Mom and Pop gift stores, delis, small groceries and hoping for the big break with an important chain. Many of the foreign producers are getting clued in about how lucrative flavored oils can be and had them on display.
A sea of olive oil in the Australian section
There were specialty oils besides olive oil. Several booths advertised flavored grape seed oils. Unusual nut oils like cashew were being promoted along with health claims for flax seed, avocado, rice, walnut, hazelnut, macadamia nut and coconut oils. The people at the pecan oil booth couldn't say what made it "100% pure and virgin" or if there was an International Pecan Oil Board which defined such things.
Products were available for impossibly narrow niches. One company had small "wine wafers" in several flavors specifically for tasting Cabernet wines. At another booth, when asked what one would do with lavender flavored vinegar, the reply was that it was a must when serving Asian pears. A Manzanillo and Caserne variety olive oil was deemed a must for chilled cooked asparagus. (They later admitted that when in doubt you could say any flavored oil would be excellent on asparagus).
Tasting olive oil at the NASFT 2006 Winter show
If you can't get your premium chocolate onto the market, look for a narrower niche; one company had gourmet chocolates which were fortified with calcium and Vitamin D aimed at postmenopausal women trying to forestall osteoporosis. Two tablets were a day's supply. And there may be more money in that niche than in wine wafers, P&G research shows calcium supplements are a $40 million market per product spokespeople.
In the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) booth, space was rented by the 1/2 day to members to offer taste samples. Mary McCarthy from Tutta California, Joeli Yaguda from Willow Creek Ranch (Pasolivo oil) and Lucero Olive Oil were pouring oil the day we were there. Patty Darragh, executive director of the COOC said the show had been a success so far in promoting California producers to food buyers. A special reception after the show for the press was well attended.
O Olive Oil had their own booth and were announcing a delicious new jalapeno pepper with Tahitian lime olive oil. They had no comment when asked about Safeway grocery store's new O line of organic foods with very similar colors and graphics.
Mary Ellen Mooney of Mooney Farms announced their single varietal extra virgin olive oil made from their newly planted Arbequina orchards. The bottle label and packaging made it look very Euro-imported.
Joeli Yaguda with her Pasolivo Olive Oil
Alan Greene of California Olive Ranch reported much of his current year's oil is already spoken for. Nearly one half of the company's sales are in bulk. Attendees were tasting cake made with California Olive Ranch oil at the booth. Food distributor Albert Katz of Katz & Co. displayed his Kitchen Line of products Bonnie Storm's olive oil was available for tasting. Bonnie promised to give us a better back story than the Grandma in Sicily.
Stella Cadente's Sue Ellery was offered tastes of their new blood orange oil; perfect for finishing a salad or baking.
Pica Trade Company's Steve Tabrize was introducing a California olive oil this year.
The Bariani family staffed their family olive oil booth. Show attendees tasted a new basil garlic flavored olive oil at the B.R. Cohn booth.
McEvoy Olive Oil sparkled in their pastorally decorated booth. You felt like you were right at their Marin county farm. Their excellent back label should be a model for the industry.
Albert Katz with Kitchen Line Olive Oil
Bella Cucina gets my award for best booth. They coughed up the money for more expensive overhead lighting which made their products really pop. They were offering an extended product line of essence oils, dippers and even sold the olive theme dipping bowls and plates.
At other booths the back story seemed to be important. Towering sepia tone photos of Grandma as a barefoot young woman harvesting wheat in Sicily were the backdrop for a simple cracker.
Sex still sells; olive oil is best enjoyed on a Tuscan hillside patio while a sensuous young woman runs her bare foot up your leg according to label art at the Rogers Collection.
The Australians are invading the olive oil scene with low priced premium oils just like they have with Shiraz on the wine shelves. Oil made from mechanically picked clone varieties make for low price and good quality.
Venerable Nunez de Prado were promoting their "Flor de Aceite" or "free run" organic olive oil made with no pressing. The olives are stone ground and then the oil is allowed to drip from the mash without any heat or pressure.
One of the most intriguing items at the show was a quick setup light "studio" made by Cubelite for photographing food and small products. The 2, 3, and 4 foot square light boxes, made up of thin white fabric sprang into shape like an instant tent creating an excellent light booth with the included light and reflector. Very handy for those digital photographers taking quick product shots for websites, promotional brochures and online stores.
And for those of you who didn't have a chance to try the beer brittle at last year's show, this year Fiery Beer Brittle and Chardonnay Brittle were available for tasting along with the original.