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Olive oil is how much now? Prices jump — again — amid worldwide shortage

A bottle of olive oil is seen on shelves at a Walmart in Austin, Texas, on Oct. 23, 2023. Olive oil prices have soared to record levels after crops in Spain, Italy and elsewhere were hit by wildfires and drought. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images - image credit)
A bottle of olive oil is seen on shelves at a Walmart in Austin, Texas, on Oct. 23, 2023. Olive oil prices have soared to record levels after crops in Spain, Italy and elsewhere were hit by wildfires and drought. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images - image credit)

Shoppers may find themselves doing a double take in the olive oil section of their local grocery stores these days, as industry analysts say prices have reached a record high.

Prices for extra virgin olive oil in stores across Canada have increased an average 25.6 per cent since January alone, ranging from $13.99 to $24.99 per litre nationwide, according to data collected between Dec. 31 and May 13 by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University and viewed by CBC News.

That's on top of the already-skyrocketing prices consumers have stomached recently as growers in Europe contend with drought, wildfires, floods and other affects of climate change.

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In Canada, the average price for one litre has more than doubled over the past three years, from $6.62 in March 2021 to $15.93 in March 2024, according to Statistics Canada's most recent monthly average retail prices — a 140 per cent increase.

The soaring price of olive oil

The worldwide shortage has led to supermarkets in Spain locking up the liquid gold to prevent theft and, reportedly, to Italians reducing their consumption of the mainstay of the Mediterranean diet.

Meanwhile, consumers are experiencing sticker shock.

"Sorry but wtf is going on with the price of olive oil??" a U.K. woman wrote on X, formerly Twitter, in April, alongside a grocery store photo showing prices ranging up to 13.85 pounds for a litre (about $22.39 Cdn).

The challenges in olive oil production have been nothing short of a crisis in Spain, the world's largest producer, where production was down 62 per cent last year, according to international olive oil expert Fil Bucchino, who is based in Toronto.

"The Mediterranean has endured three consecutive years of difficult harvests, with a slew of factors from weather to geopolitical issues culminating in a perfect storm during the last harvest," Bucchino told CBC News.

"This is another wake-up call regarding our relationship with nature and our drive for profits."

Production plummets, prices soar

Bad weather has also hit olive crops in other major growers like Greece, Italy and Portugal. Greece and Spain have both seen sales plummet by one-third over the last year, according to industry estimates reported by The Associated Press.

Other contributing factors include supply-chain disruptions, and inflationary increases in the prices of fertilizers, transport, gas and electricity, which in turn, have affected production and logistics costs, Bucchino said.

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Global production fell from 3.4 million tonnes in 2022 to 2.5 million tonnes last year, and it's forecast to be even lower this year, says Nicholas Li, an assistant professor in the department of economics at Toronto Metropolitan University.

So, why does it feel like prices jumped again recently? Partly because it took time for inventory to run down, Li says. And when it became clear that this year's production wouldn't bounce back, prices surged throughout the supply chain.

"This is one case where I don't think you can blame retailers," Li said.

Olive oil is a frequent topic of conversation in the group "Loblaws is out of control" on Reddit, which has nearly 80,000 members and is currently leading a month-long boycott of the grocery chain.

A Canadian user shared a photo last month of a bottle of Gallo Extra Virgin Olive Oil selling for $24.49 at a Shoppers Drug Mart, and other users noticed high prices at Costco, Walmart, and No Frills.

"Straight-up madness," one user wrote with a photo of a three-litre club pack for $57.99.

Jon Nazca/Reuters
Jon Nazca/Reuters

Vulnerable to climate change

An online search of the big five grocery store chains in Canada shows prices of a few popular brands available in Ontario ranging from roughly $15 to $24 for one litre of extra virgin olive oil.

On its website Wednesday, one litre of Gallo Extra Virgin Olive Oil at Loblaws was listed as $17.99. The same brand was listed as $14.97 at Walmart, $15.79 at Sobeys and $17.99 at Metro. Costco Canada's delivery website did not list Gallo brand as an option, but one litre of its Kirkland Signature California Extra Virgin Olive Oil was $19.99.

One litre of Bertolli Rich Taste Extra Virgin Oil, another popular brand, was listed as $23.99 at Loblaws, $21.49 at Sobeys, $17.99 at Metro (on sale from $18.99), and wasn't listed on the Walmart Canada or Costco Canada sites.

Store brands are generally less expensive and ranged from roughly $12 to $20. 

The record-high prices were expected given the conditions in Europe, but that doesn't mean it's not painful for consumers, says Sylvain Charlebois, senior director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab in Halifax.

Like coffee and cocoa, olive oil is one of those commodities that's extremely vulnerable to climate change, Charlebois says, and those goods have also seen price spikes in recent years.

"Five years ago I think olive oil was seen as a really decent vegetable oil, and now it's more in the premium category," he said.

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