Oiling the palate
Many types of edible oils are available in Italian retail stores: extra-virgin olive oil, olive oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil and mixed-seed oil. But the market is dominated by the olive oil and extra-virgin olive oil sectors.
The production of olive oil and extra-virgin olive oil in Italy in 2012 was 479,000 tonnes, according to figures from Istituto di Servizi per il Mercato Agricolo Alimentare (ISMEA). The olive oil industry has a turnover of €3,300 million, which represents 2.6 per cent of the entire Italian agri-food industry.
However, Italy's supermarkets and hypermarkets offer plenty of private label oils for shoppers who are looking for quality at a reasonable price. We made our store checks in stores operated by the three major Italian chains: Coop Italia, Conad and Esselunga; all are hypermarkets in or near Bologna.
During our store checks, we found most of the space dedicated to edible oils occupied by olive oil and extra-virgin olive oil, including regional top-quality extra-virgin olive oil. Organic extra-virgin olive oil was found in all three retail stores under the stores' private labels. (If labelled "organic", the oil is always extra-virgin, as no solvents or methods other than cold pressure are allowed in organic production.)
However, we also found private label edible oils from other origins, namely corn oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil and peanut oil, as well as a specific preparation for deep frying sold in red plastic bottles.
Peanut oil, which is said to be ideal for deep-frying in a relatively healthful way, was in particular abundance. We did not find any rapeseed oil, which is used in northern Europe but not in Italy. Special niche oils such as walnut oil, linseed oil and pumpkin seed oil were not available under private label branding. In all three stores, the vegetable oil not made from olives is sold in plastic bottles, while olive oil and extra-virgin olive oil are always sold in glass bottles.
Bologna-based Conad sells non-olive vegetable oils under two different brands. The general Conad brand has a transparent clear plastic bottle with square-shaped bottom, while the Apprezzo brand, which is the very cheap brand, is packed in simple, clear round plastic bottles.
The label of the Conad brand shows a picture of the original raw material – for example, a sunflower or peanuts – with the product name and the red Conad brand. The Apprezzo design is even more basic, showing the product and brand names.
These private label vegetable oils are all available in a 1-litre size, except the oil for deep frying, which is available in both 1- and 2-litre sizes.
The product for deep frying is not called 'oil', but has been given the fantasy name of Tutti Fritti. Underneath that name, it is stated that the product is "ideal for deep-frying". It appears to be quite popular, as we found a large amount of space dedicated to this product, which comes in red plastic bottles.
The Conad branded olive oil comes in a 1-litre glass bottle priced at €3.89. The Conad branded extra-virgin olive oil is available in three varieties: Classic, in both 1-litre (€5.30) and 0.5-litre bottles (€2.99); Intenso in a 1-litre bottle (€5,30); and Delicato in a 1-litre bottle (€4.59).
All Conad branded edible oils are positioned at eye level and cover the whole length of the shelf dedicated to edible oils. In a dedicated shelf for top-quality extra-virgin olive oil, Conad displays the Sapori & Dintorni items, which are regional Italian extra-virgin olive oils in particularly styled bottles of 0.75 litre.
The Sapori & Dintorni range covers the extra-virgin olive oil from Umbria called Colli Martiani DOP; one from Tuscany called IGP Toscana; one from Sicily called Monti Iblei DOP; one from Abruzzo called Aprutino Pescarese DOP; one from Apulia called Terra di Bari Bitonto DOP; and one from Riviera Ligure called Riviera dei Fiori DOP. The bottle for the last-mentioned product is wrapped extravagantly in golden-coloured aluminium foil. On the same shelf, organic extra-virgin olive oil under the brand Conad il Biologico also can be found, with a well-designed green label, at a price of €6.45 for 0.75 litre.
Esselunga, headquartered in Milan, carries private label vegetable oils in clear plastic 1-litre bottles that have a square-bottomed shape. We found corn oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, peanut oil and mixed-seed oil, as well as the red bottled preparation for deep frying. Esselunga positions its private label oils at eye level, and dedicates considerable shelf space to edible oils.
The Esselunga label design is quite simple, with a picture of the raw material – for example, a sunflower or some peanuts – and has a 'retro' look. We also found organic sunflower oil and organic corn oil in glass 0.75-litre bottles under the Esselunga Bio private label. Esselunga was the only retailer we visited that was selling organic oil especially for deep frying, in glass 1-litre bottles under the Esselunga Bio private label.
Esselunga's olive oil range comes in clear glass bottles with dark yellow and green labels, in both 1-litre (€3.86) and 0.5-litre (€2.24) sizes. We found the Italian extra-virgin olive oil under the Esselunga brand in dark glass bottles, all with the claim that they are 100 per cent Italian, in 1-litre bottles (€5.39) and 0.5-litre bottles (€2.99). The Esselunga 100 per cent Italian extra-virgin olive oil comes with a gold label with dark blue and red design elements.
Esselunga also carries a sweet extra-virgin olive oil quality called Dolce, which is not claimed to be 100 per cent Italian. It comes in a dark glass 1-litre bottle that is similar to the 100 per cent Italian variety, but it has a silver label with dark blue and red elements and costs only €4.59.
The third Esselunga branded extra-virgin olive oil is called Classico, and it comes in a dark glass bottle with a dark yellow label that has an attractive design featuring dark red and green graphical elements. This quality extra-virgin olive oil is available in a wide range of sizes: 3 litres, 1 litre, 0.5 litre and 0.1 litre.
Esselunga presents its organic and top-quality extra- virgin olive oils on a dedicated shelf at the beginning of the edible oil shelf. Esselunga is the only retailer we found to carry two different organic extra-virgin olive oil varieties – a Classic from 100 per cent Italian origins (€6.99 per 0.75-litre bottle) and one from Tuscany (€11.38 per 0.75-litre bottle). At the time of our store check, the latter oil was on promotion with a 40 per cent discount (€6.82).
Both Esselunga Bio extra-virgin olive oils come in a square-bottomed dark glass bottle containing 0.75 litre. Esselunga also has a top-quality specialty food range within its private label offering called Esselunga Top. The label colours are dark blue and gold, universally recognised to communicate top quality.
The extra-virgin olive oil range under the Esselunga Top brand includes a variety from Tuscany called Chianti Classico, with the bottle wrapped in coloured aluminium foil, as well as Riviera Ligure – Riviera dei Fiori from Liguria, in a bottle wrapped in gold aluminium foil.
Coop, based in Casalecchio Di Reno, has a different approach to the vegetable oils under the general Coop brand. The brand has a special 1-litre plastic bottle shape, and the bottles are completely covered with a printed plastic foil that provides space for communicating information to the consumer and also protects the oils against light, which can potentially cause oxidation processes.
The general Coop branded vegetable oils found on the shelves are peanut oil, sunflower oil, corn oil and the Friggifacile preparation for deep frying, which comes in a red plastic bottle. The Friggifacile, as well as the sunflower oil and the corn oil, also are sold in a 3-litre big bottle.
The basic Coop "no-name" brand, which has a clear yellow and black label, has the same varieties, filled in 1-litre basic clear plastic bottles, except for the deep frying preparation.
Coop also carries an organic cold-pressed sunflower oil in dark glass bottle of 0.75 litre under the general organic and sustainable Coop brand ViviVerde.
The general Coop branded olive oil comes in a clear 1-litre bottle priced at €4.25, as well as in a 3-litre can priced at €11.95. The extra-virgin olive oil under the general Coop brand comes in clear glass bottles with a round bottom in 0.5-litre and 1-litre sizes.
The general Coop branded range also includes a 100 per cent Italian extra-virgin olive oil priced at €5.09 per litre; it comes in a dark glass bottle. The retailers' ViviVerde organic extra-virgin olive oil comes in the usual square-bottomed dark glass bottle of 0.75 litre, priced at €5.09, and with the claim that it is 100 per cent Italian.
Coop's top-quality Italian food brand is called Fior Fiore, under which regional extra-virgin olive oils can be found, all in dark glass bottles with the distinctive dark purple label design of the whole Fior Fiore range. We found one from Tuscany called Toscano IGP, as well as one from Apulia called Terra di Bari DOP – Bitonto. There was also one from Umbria called Colli Martiani in a specially shaped bottle, one from Liguria called Taggiasche Ligure, and one from Sicily called Val di Mazara.468, September / October 2013, PLINT6271, Features