Trends in US imports of bulk and packaged olive oil by IOC

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Two decades ago, US olive oil imports accounted for almost 30 pc of the world total. Now, they account for more than 38 pc. This issue looks at how imports have changed over time in terms of category breakdown and container size.

Between 1993/94 and 2013/14, packaged product (containers < 18 kg) has seen its percentage share of total US imports shrink by 29.9 points from 87 pc to 58.6 pc while bulk containers have gained ground, increasing their share from 13 pc to 41.4 pc. In volume terms, imports in 1993/94 totalled 122 996 t, of which 107 398.70 t were in containers < 18 kg. Italy was the source of 72 pc of this packaged product, 22 pc of which was virgin olive oil imported under customs heading 150910, 50 pc was olive oil (heading 150990) and 1 pc was olive pomace oil (heading 151000).

Spain supplied 9 pc of packaged imports, followed by Greece (3 pc) and Turkey (2.5 pc). The remaining tonnage (15 597.30 t) was made up of bulk-container imports, largely from Italy and Spain. By 2013/14, the situation had changed. Imports totalled 312 341 t and the trend was towards higher imports of bulk versus packaged product with virgin olive oil (150910) as the main grade imported (66 pc of total).

As just mentioned, almost 59 pc of the oil imported into the United States in 2013/14 was in containers

As can be seen from Chart 1, bulk-container imports have been winning ground from packaged product over the last 20 years. Italy leads the packaged market while Spain dominates the bulk market. In 2013/14, 41 pc of the olive imported into the United States was in containers > 18 kg, of which 28 pc was from Spain, followed at a distance by Tunisia (4 pc), Argentina (3 pc), Italy (2 pc) and the rest of the countries together (4 pc).

Virgin olive oil (150910) is the most popular grade for imports in this category of container (23 pc of the total, of which 16 pc is extra virgin, 4 pc is organic extra virgin and 3 pc is virgin). Seventeen per cent belongs to the olive oil grade (150990) and 1 pc is olive pomace oil. Chart 2 plots the trend of US imports of the two chief categories of product – virgin olive oil (150910) and olive oil (150990) – by container size over the past 20 crop years.

Notably, until 2001/02, packaged olive oil was in greatest demand (150990 < 18 kg) but this trend then changed direction and packaged virgin olive oil (150910 < 18 kg) is now predominant.

The five-season trend of US imports by country of origin and container size between 2009/10 and 2013/14 is reported in Table 1. The picture that emerges is a 43 pc increase in bulk imports, contrasting with an increase of no more than 1 pc in imports of packaged containers. The four top suppliers of packaged product by order of volume are Italy, Spain, Greece, Tunisia and Turkey. In the bulk ranking, Spain is the leader, followed by Tunisia, Argentina and Italy.
Spain clearly dominates the bulk market and is making inroads in packaged product, which is still led by Italy although it has lost ground in volume terms over the five crop years.

In a nutshell, this analysis points to a major change in the structure of the US import market.

Compared with 20 years ago, import volume is now 21/2 times higher and import breakdown by container size has shifted with bulk containers increasing their share of total import volume from 13 to 41.4 pc, which is an indicator that bottling has expanded significantly in the US.

The breakdown of suppliers has changed too. Spain has seen its bulk exports increase, above all to supply on-site bottling facilities, as have other countries like Tunisia and Argentina that will have to be reckoned with in the future. Other countries will also probably enter the playing field.


Source: International Olive Council Newsletter N90 January 2015

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