The United States’ first ever accredited olive growing lab is in Woodland, California, where the Australian company Boundary Bend Olives bought an 8.8 acre industrial property in July 2014. The facility includes an olive oil mill, bottling facilities, an olive oil laboratory, and administrative offices. The facility will cost $15 million and production should begin by October 2015.
Americans’ consumption of olive oil has been increasing over the years due to its health benefits. In 2013-2014, the US consumed 310,000 metric tons (MT) of olive oil, an increase from 294,000 MT in the 2012-2013 year. In 2013, Woodland’s Yolo County Crop Report ranked olive oil as the 13th top agricultural product with a value of $7.4 million. In 2012, olive oil in Yolo County was only valued at $2.1 million.
However, the majority of products in the US olive oil market are imported. Of the 310,000 MT of olive oil consumed by Americans in the 2013- 2014 period, only 5,000 MT were produced in the United States. The International Olive Council reports that olive oil production in the US surged to 10,000 MT in 2013, double the amount the US Department of Agriculture reported.
Recognizing the potential for growth, Boundary Bend’s President of US Operations, Adam Englehardt, said that “The US market is much larger than Australia's market. There is tremendous room for domestically produced olive oil." Boundary Bends has also acquired about 1,000 acres of land in Yolo County to grow olives locally.
In 2013, the Senate took steps to ensure that Americans consume the highest quality extra-virgin olive oil by passing legislation that olive oil labeled as Californian grown must be 100% from olives grown in California, an increase from the previous 75%. The higher standards for olive oil were passed after the UC Davis Olive Center released a study which revealed fraud and mislabeling plague the olive oil industry, especially items labeled “extra-virgin olive oil.”
With better food standards in place, Californian production of olive oil could change the global supply chain. Traditionally a product of Mediterranean countries from Spain to Turkey, the rising popularity of olive oil in the US will help domestic growers as well as producers in other countries such as Australia to gain access to the market.
Melissa Newcomb graduated from American University SIS and is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington, D.C.