American Olive Oil Producers Association

Uniting Diverse Industry Stakeholders

CLIENT:
Founded in 2012, the American Olive Oil Producers Association is the unified voice for American olive oil producers and their state associations. AOOPA advocates in Washington, DC, state capitols and with partners around the world for policies for fair global market access for all producers; to support effective testing, standards and regulations; and to promote education about the quality and culinary and health benefits of olive oil.  AOOPA’s mission is to promote growth for the American olive oil industry, create fair access to global markets, and ensure the integrity and quality of olive oil for all consumers.

THE CHALLENGE:
Approximately 42,000 acres are planted for olive oil in the US, specifically in California, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Florida, Oregon, and Hawaii. The state and size of the industry varies significantly from state to state, as do growing conditions and the status of the research and technologies to address them.  To function as an effective national voice, AOOPA must help stakeholders with varying needs weigh and agree on tactics that benefit the entire industry. 

US olive oil producers faces economic challenges from lower quality imports mislabeled as extra virgin olive oil that undercut US pricing.  The New York Times article “Extra Virgin Suicide,” for example, notes that many Italian producers export adulterated oil and that there are no regulations to prevent these practices.   A 2010 study by the University of California, Davis, found that 69 percent of imported olive oils labeled as “extra virgin” failed International Olive Council sensory standards. A 2011 follow-up project by UC Davis and the Australian Oils Research Laboratory had nearly identical findings.  About 95% of olive oil produced in the US exceeds all standards for extra virgin olive oil. 

In the face of the issues faced by the industry, AOOPA reached out to Morrison & Company regarding the USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) grant, with a compelling argument for applying.

MORRISON & COMPANY’S APPROACH:
AOOPA applied for a USDA SCRI Research and Extension Planning Project grant, with assistance from Morrison & Company. Funding was awarded for a strategic planning project for the industry’s top stakeholders to identify challenges affecting the industry and potential research projects.  Morrison & Company’s People Solutions team was engaged to serve as third-party facilitators to guide a two-day strategy session at the UC Davis Olive Center on the University of California, Davis, campus.  The participants were a diverse group representing growers; olive oil producers and marketers; trade associations; university researchers from California, Florida, Texas, Georgia; and others.  Accordingly, there were several perspectives and viewpoints to consider and accommodate. 

We interviewed 31 stakeholders prior to the strategy session to gain a better picture of what the industry is facing across the country. Throughout the strategy session, the group discussed the needs of various stakeholders (e.g., by state and industry segments including growers, consumers, producers, and researchers) and potential projects.

THE RESULTS:
While the participants arrived with a variety of potential projects and goals, the structured yet open facilitation process led to all viewpoints being heard and agreement on a research project to benefit the US olive oil industry as a whole and to give consumers assurance that the olive oil they buy – regardless of origin – meets extra virgin status if that is identified on the bottle.

Perhaps the most common reaction from participants was surprise that agreement on a priority could be reached over a two-day session.  Follow-up steps were laid out and the proposed research project will be designed in part as a basis for further grant funding efforts to support the needed research.