24 Jul

UK: Extra virgin is the essential oil and sales hit new high as taste rules

By Martyn McLaughlin,

It is revered by chefs as the finest olive oil money can buy, and now Britain’s consumers are choosing to drizzle with the extra virgin variety in record numbers.

Sales of the oil reached an all-time high £71 million in the UK last year as Britons adopted a healthier Mediterranean diet.

Despite its high price, extra virgin olive oil, increasingly endorsed by celebrity chefs, is the most popular type of oil and now has more than 30 per cent of the UK market. Sales rose by more than 11 per cent over the previous year.

Those of extra virgin olive oil are now double that of sunflower or standard vegetable oil, once the most popular types of cooking oil in British homes.

Sales of all oils, including vegetable, sunflower and rape seed rose by 15 per cent, boosting the market value to £214.2 million, according to TNS research revealed by the Grocer magazine.

It says olive oils are becoming more popular in British homes for cooking and on salads. The biggest growth came in low calorie, so-called “light” olive oils whose sales reached nearly £17 million, up by 78 per cent.

Own-label oils, which make up two thirds of the total market, are also up by a significant margin. Sales have risen by 30 per cent, double that of the market as a whole.

Tesco own-label oils are the most popular, followed by Sainsbury’s. Among branded ranges, Filippo Berio is the highest-ranking name.

The biggest growth in sales came in January this year, which experts said was likely to have been fuelled by healthier eating after Christmas.

Analysts say the big supermarkets dominate the oil market because most people buy the product with their weekly shop. However, the high street newcomers Lidl and Aldi have increased their share of the oils market in the past year.

A spokesman for Heart Buchanan, a Glasgow-based deli, said: “We sell a wide range of extra virgin olive oil and it’s becoming increasingly popular. People really value the crispness of the flavour.

“The very best oil tastes clean, almost like apples, and you can tell the difference between those and generic oil.”

Extra virgin olive oil can range from a crystalline champagne colour to green/gold to bright green. It is thought that the deeper the colour, the more intense the olive flavour.

Experts treat extra virgin olive oils with the reverence some might use when describing fine wines, with some suggesting that no two olive groves produce oils that taste alike.

• SOMETIMES known as EVOO, extra virgin olive oil is lauded for its superior taste and comes from the first pressing of the olives.

With a high content of vitamins and nutrients, the oil is pure, without any additives. Under standards laid down by the International Olive Oil Council, extra virgin olive oil should be produced by mechanical extraction methods, with no chemicals or hot water applied. Furthermore, it ought to contain no more than 0.8 per cent acidity and should never contain any refined oil in its make-up.

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