Olive oil prices surge over 100% to record highs and spark cooking oil thefts

Olive oil prices surged to record highs in the summer of 2019 due to a perfect storm of weather, supply shortages, and mounting stockpiles. This caused olive oil prices to rise by more than 100% across the world, sparking a series of thefts and counterfeiting operations.

The surge in olive oil prices was driven by a number of factors. First, hot, dry weather in Spain, Italy, Greece and Tunisia caused a sharp decline in the 2019/2020 olive oil crop. This led to a global supply shortage, leaving buyers scrambling for what little olive oil remained. At the same time, increased geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and North Africa destabilized some producers, further limiting supplies.

Meanwhile, stockpiles of olive oil kept growing, as imports outpaced demand. This exacerbated the problem, pushing prices even higher. By August 2019, extra virgin olive oil prices had rocketed up to $10,000 a ton, a more than 100% increase on the same time in 2018.

The soaring prices sparked a wave of olive oil thefts and counterfeiting operations. In Sicily, a Sardinian group of thieves was arrested for stealing over 40,000 liters of olive oil. In Spain, a fraudster was arrested in Seville for selling fake olive oil. In other parts of the world, unscrupulous producers artificially spiked the grade of their olive oil, labeling it extra virgin while cutting it with lower-grade oils.

The situation continued to worsen into 2020 as the supply crisis deepened and stockpiles grew. Other countries, including Australia, began to experience shortages of olive oil due to the situation. Fortunately, a bumper harvest in 2020 has helped to alleviate the supply shortage and bring prices back down.