A surge in sunflower oil prices after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine cut supply has proved an opportunity for olive oil producers. But even after Spanish supermarkets limited the purchase of sunflower oil to a few bottles per person, shelves ran dry. This prompted retailers to fill their shelves with the homegrown alternative.
Actually, in Spain bottled olive oil consumption is guaranteed because of its huge production. Spain produces more olive oil than it consumes and exports a third of its production of virgin and refined oils.
Sunflower oil from Ukraine represents around 40% (400,000 tonnes) of the total Spain imports to supplement the 300,000 tonnes it produces in the country. Therefore, the price of sunflower oil has risen by 64% in the last week, the latest official data shows. And, as customers stocked up, sales of all edibile oils soared by 289% compared to the same week in 2021.
Retailers have called on people to refrain from the kind of panic buying previously seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. It happened with toilet paper in 2020, now it is happening with sunflower oil or flour.
The industry estimates it will have 1.5 million tonnes of olive oil to cover the shortfall of Ukrainian imports. Spain also hopes to sell more olive oil to neighbours France and Germany.
A matter of taste
The Spanish government has joined those talking up olive oil as a solution to shortages, telling it could be easily exchanged for sunflower oil. But some restaurateurs and manufacturers of processed foods, fish canneries and bakeries, disagree.
It is true that in Spain has most and are most famous for is olive oil, but it might not be suitable for baking because of its aggressive flavour. Biscuits, chocolate creams for filling pastries and packaged breads must also made with sunflower oil, with two, maximum three weeks away from running out of sunflower oil stock.
His industry is investigating vegetable oils such as corn or coconut, but Spain does not yet have a stable supply. Also, canned fish manufacturers pack at least half of their production in sunflower oil. Although they also use olive oil, they worry the stronger flavour and higher cost might put customers off.