Contrary to recent media attention, fraud is not the olive oil industry’s biggest problem. According to almost every professional we ask, the number one challenge is consumer education. But what is the industry doing to solve it? Not nearly as much as they are doing to go after mislabeled goods.
Ultimately, the only way to create a sea change in the business will be educating everyday users of olive oil to make purchase decisions based on quality, not misunderstood semantics. So maybe the weapons to fight this war are not the USDA certification and Federal marketing orders of the world. Maybe the tools are already in the hands of consumers, in the form of iPhones™ and iPads™ and other mobile devices used every day by an army of curious consumers.
It is not surprising that the olive oil world has been slow to take up the digital world. Olive oil has always been associated with old world romance and sensory experiences, none of which you can easily access on your home computer or mobile device – not yet anyway. So how does one of the oldest industries in the world embrace the newest digital trends?
Digital Apps to the Rescue
The best olive oil app is not yet invented. It will solve two problems: uncovering adulteration while providing education. It will be able to scan a label’s UPC or QR code and tell the buyer if the olive oil is the real thing: where it was grown, when it was harvested and bottled, how it fared in meeting chemical quality standards and how it was handled on the trip from the mill to the store. Until then, the next best thing might be to have a vetted database of brands from an unbiased authority (UC Davis Olive Center and COOC take the hint, please) that would be available online for easy in-store access.
Until then, a handful of olive oil entrepreneurs have created the first digital forays into delivering information into the hands of novices. The current small collection of apps may not be earth-shatteringly essential, but they have begun to explore how digital and physical can co-exist in this business to further the education process for consumers.
As with any pioneers carving out a new road, it’s forgivable that they haven’t paved it. So be patient with these digital forerunners. Priced at less than a magazine at the newsstand, they provide some interesting ways for consumers to source high quality extra virgin olive oil and learn some interesting facts in the process.
The first digital app dedicated to extra virgin olive oil, Go EVOO is the brainchild of Carol Firenze, author of The Passionate Olive. Firenze is best known for providing readers of her popular book with hundreds of creative ways to use olive oil, so it is natural that the app is packed with lots of tips and ideas. The searchable GPS-enabled directory of over 200 olive oil producers, purveyors and tasting rooms in California and around the country provides travelers who are hankering for some quality olive oil an easy way to find it. The rest of the information presented is relatively lightweight for the capability of an iPad, but you can learn some interesting and little known facts about olive oil from this cost-effective app. $1.99
Olive Oil IQ is a nicely-focused travelogue for lovers of Italian olive oil. Written by travel writer, Sharri Whiting, it is packed with pretty pictures and fairly deep detail about different olive oil-related subjects, like ancient history, olive trees and recipes. The handsome design interface and search wheel helps organize an extensive table of contents. From a practical perspective, it is designed more as a travel guide for visitors to Italy than a purely dedicated source of information about olive oil. It includes places to visit, stay and experience Italy and could be helpful if you are planning a trip focused on food. And when in Italy, who wouldn’t be? $2.99
Curtis Cord, publisher of Olive Oil Times, describes the app as “…essentially a constantly updated and expanding guide to the world of olive oil in a smartly designed interface.” This is a great description of an iPad™ app that serves as a door into their comprehensive website. With a simple user-interface, this app sorts subjects by matching categories found on the web. The drawback of the app is that most everything ultimately hyperlinks to online information, so it doesn’t provide much in the way of mobile advantages over going directly to the site from any browser. I understand that new interactive features are in the works that will take advantage of the mobility of iPhone™ and iPad™ apps, like on-the-go bar code scanning for olive oil products, so stay tuned to watch this app, unlike olive oil, improve over time. $3.99
Marco Oreggia has created a series of guides designed to provide independent olive oil sensory evaluations that are available as digital iPad™ apps. His Flos Olei: 2012 A Guide to the World’s Best Extra Virgin Olive Oils covers data from 40 olive growing countries including Spain, Italy, France and other Mediterranean countries such as Croatia, Portugal, Slovenia and Morocco, and distant countries like Chile, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, China, Japan and Brazil. No U.S. producers are included in current editions. The 2012 edition contains descriptions of 625 extra virgin olive oils from a total of 446 producers selected from among 1200-1500 farms worldwide.
The app is simple enough, opening with a graphically-driven legend of symbols that guide the user through individual oil assessments. The publisher provides an extensive amount of information about selected producers including details about farm description, location, contact information, oil tasting notes and recommendations for food and olive oil pairings.
To round out its functionality, the app also supplies a lengthy glossary of related terms, a solid description of the proper way to taste olive oil (albeit somewhat quirky in its presentation flow) and official denominations of origins (AOP, DOG, IDG – all European categories for official growing regions but they fail to explain these terms).
For the 2012 edition, fifty expert olive oil tasters, both men and women of all ages, tasted around 3000 samples. They based their analysis on the official tasting methods created by the International Olive Council (Consiglio Oleicolo Internazionale). The results of the five month study included only 179 recommended oils, with 20 receiving the honor of “best in the world”. FREE - $9.99 (based on edition)