A bruschetta with Marco

Marco Viola is the President of the Oleicola Division of Confagricoltura Umbria, in Italy.

He is one of the largest producers of quality oil in the world and a straight shooter. His Moraiolo and Frantoio monocultures are models of inspiration for those who want to reach the heights of excellence and not only in Italy.

Recently I was having a talk with him about a bruschetta that made me think of the current situation in Umbria and Italy.

How did it go this year?

In Italy, the 2019 oil harvest enjoyed twice the production of the previous year, reaching 365 thousand tons (source Ismea).

On a regional scale it is estimated that, while the regions of Northern Italy have suffered a significant decrease, as have Umbria and Tuscany, the other regions of the center and especially the South have seen significant growth in production volumes.

Therefore, we can see that, when considering regions such as Puglia, which is traditionally the most important region in terms of volumes, producing more than 50% compared to the previous year, the availability of Italian extra virgin olive oils on the market increased.

How much did Covid influence production and consumption …

The quality productions are also characterized by a quantity of olives, which have allowed producers of excellence to produce interesting critical masses of excellent quality. These specific productions are reserved and marketed mainly in the Horeca sector which, due to the blockade of Covid, has suffered a slowdown, generating a significant decrease in sales, unlike the large-scale retail trade that has seen an increase in the sale of product marketed by packers. This product marketed by the oil industry is mostly of EU origin and has penalized Italian EVO, especially quality oil.

How bad is the situation?

This serious situation has put small producers to the test and they have also seen a slowdown in their sales. In any case, they have had to continue making investments in the field, which are essential for the maintenance of the olive groves, and on the other hand, they block investments both from the point of view of agronomic and technological improvements in the oil mill.

How much damage has been done to Made in Italy quality oil?

These small companies, which make up national production, also represent the productive fabric of the true Made in Italy oils and are still living a period of uncertainty today. In the future, this represents an obstacle to agricultural improvement, and an innovative oil plan is needed. Furthermore, the concern of a fluctuating market increasingly characterized by the demand for low price and low quality products is another obstacle.

What do you suggest your associates do?

I am the representative of the olive producers that supply both the small quality millers and the industry and I cannot have a different vision for each sales channel. The suggestion is always the same: quality olives for everyone and health protection in the field

What will be the Italian offer this year in terms of quality and price?

We have made a great economic organizational effort to protect the health of the personnel involved in the harvest and therefore we think that we will go to the field to guarantee the same quality as last year’s olives.

Despite this, we fear that the price of the olives will fall by 10% due to some unsold stock.

What about the foreign supply from the EU and from outside the EU in terms of quality and price?

The quantities of oil from the EU and outside the EU will remain unchanged, but the price will be lower, which is still too early to say.

Do you feel that you have to distinguish between EU and non-EU oils?

Not necessarily. We already know the great similarities between these two markets and with the tariffs imposed by the US, a large amount of EU oil will be diverted to non-EU markets. The product has to be tasted, there are also good things in North Africa.

Do you think that there will be a drop in prices and quality in the Italian market due to Covid?

This will definitely not be because of the quality. Prices won’t necessarily have to go down, especially for quality oil, but we’ll have to wait until autumn and see how the climate evolves.

What is the Italian producer and what is the government to do to make prices profitable?

– Inform the customer?

– Reduce bureaucracy?

– Re-qualify the EVO image?

Without a doubt, the customer’s knowledge depends on the producer, we can no longer waste time waiting for national and European governments to carry out this informative campaign. We have seen it with wine, with cheese and ham. The producer and their organizations must take matters into their own hands and activate simple, non-generic campaigns to inform the younger consumer that this is the real oil. The drop in sales is in the young consumer sector. They have their hedonistic needs very high.

Bureaucracy, on the other hand, must be reduced by governments; the burden of proving to the State that you are right, when it should be the State that verifies if you are within the rules, is a tiring and costly job that harms honest producers. It is time to reverse the burden of proof.

The remodeling of the EVO image is fundamental, it goes from the redefinition of the IOC guidelines that today are totally missing. Acidity at 0.8% and peroxides at 20 meq / kg are the maximum quantities an oil can have in order to be considered high-quality.

Finally, would you advise your associates to concentrate more on foreign markets or on the domestic market, perhaps highlighting crops, organic, biodynamic and different uses in the kitchen of the different oils?

The markets, if they purchase, are the same and none of them should be overlooked. Of course, the approach should be differentiated according to where you want to go, but let’s remember that the product goes out first through the industry and then gets to the famous chefs.