Why Olive Oil Is So Expensive Right Now

There is something different lately about the olive oil Michelle Spangler buys, bottles and infuses with flavors like basil and blood orange for her store in Dallas. It’s not the taste but the cost: Global olive oil prices have soared to record levels, more than doubling over the past year.

Ms. Spangler has an agreement with her store’s supplier that protects against such rapid price increases, but she still expects to pay up to 20 percent more. She plans to raise prices 10 to 15 percent in her store, Infused Oils & Vinegars, early next year.

“It’s not a cheap product,” Ms. Spangler said, “and so that will probably price some of my customers out of that product line in my store.”

Like the oil that comes from the ground, olive oil is a globally traded commodity, with events in one part of the world reverberating far away. Drought in Spain, the world’s largest olive oil producer, has devastated recent harvests, and bad weather has hit olive crops in other major growers like Italy, Greece and Portugal. The United States imports almost all of the olive oil it consumes, primarily from Spain and Italy.

The result is prices climbing to dizzying heights, well over $9,000 per metric ton, which filters through to pricier bottles of the oil that have become a fixture in many American households, used for cooking and drizzling on foods associated with a healthy Mediterranean diet. A 750-millileter bottle of Bertolli’s extra virgin olive oil that cost around $9 at the grocery store last October is around $11 today, a nearly 22 percent increase, according to IRI, a data provider.

Southern Europe, which accounts for more than half of global olive oil production, is to olive oil what the Middle East is to crude oil. And things are not looking good for the upcoming European harvest, which began this month: The European Commission recently said olive oil production in Spain, Italy and other European Union countries would recover only slightly from last season’s 40 percent decline, limiting supplies and pushing up prices.

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