It’s quite a tale, about skullduggery in the food industry, about marketing trickery and disdain for consumers, about a lurking menace called fake olive oil. The story is international in its scope and damning in its accusations.
But it’s a tale that hangs by a single precarious thread – a misleading lab report that ended up to promote one segment of the olive oil industry at the expense of another. And that thread has been woven through an uncritical blogosphere and social media so many times that it’s become a tapestry of untruth.
The story has been circulating for a while now, usually under the headline «14 Fake Olive Oil Companies Revealed Now». And it’s stirred up considerable interest among consumers, not least regarding the way olive oils can be adulterated.
People everywhere began searching online for answers to their questions: What olive brands are fake? What are the olive oil brands to trust?
The phenomenon certainly caught our attention, because what the article has to say about Bertolli Olive Oil is absolutely false.
What’s been circulating is fake news. So please allow us to clear things up.
About 12 months ago, various articles began to surface online, all with the tantalizing headline “14 Fake Olive Oil Companies are Revealed Now” or some minor variant on that. And what disturbed us most was that Bertolli was always mentioned in the article, sometimes complete with a branded image of the bottle.
It was deeply concerning to Deoleo to see Bertolli included in this character assassination – a 150-year-old brand and the world’s top-selling name in olive oil, which has won more than 16 coveted industry awards for quality already just in 2018.
And it was an outrage to see Bertolli included in this character assassination – a 150-year-old brand and the world’s top-selling name in olive oil, which has won more than 16 coveted industry awards for quality already just in 2018.
So, we published a statement on our website, saying these stories were nothing more than a clickbait campaign. We hoped that would be the end of the matter, but then it got worse.
Over the next few months, the “olive oil fraud brands” story spread further, first through blog posts and then in Facebook ads, a ploy that made it seem as though many people were sharing it.
It became clear that we’d have to do more to counter the campaign and protect our reputation. False rumors, after all, always spread faster than good news.
First, some context. Bertolli was founded in 1865 in Lucca, in Italy’s Tuscany region. It was one of the first extra virgin olive oils to be exported to the United States and the many other countries where Italians migrated in the century and a half since. They knew the product well and were pleased to have it in their adopted homelands, a fond reminder of their origins. And they were happy to pass on its benefits to their new neighbors.
This is a history of which we at Deoleo, the parent company of Bertolli and other fine and genuinely popular olive oils, are quite proud. So it was extremely dismaying to see the continuous spread of misleading information and the ongoing denigration of our products with unchallenged claims about fake olive oil.
The origins of this false testimony lie in a 2010 study by the University of California, Davis, in which imported olive oil brands like Bertolli were tested alongside brands made in that US state to determine whether they were actually “extra virgin” as claimed.
The study set out to show the buying public which were the olive oil brands to trust and which were the olive oil brands to avoid.
With its claim that most of the imported brands were “virgin” oil, not “extra virgin” oil, the resulting report triggered dozens of breathless “news” stories on food blogs and on those websites that deal only in clickbait lures. The report also said all but one of the Californian brands were deemed genuine extra virgin.
Unfortunately, the people spreading these stories largely ignored the limitations of the UC Davis study, gave no consideration to the context, and quite simply got the facts wrong.
So we have prepared this guide to set the record straight, to examine the UC Davis report, and to prove that Bertolli is anything but a fake olive oil. Our intention is to present the facts clearly, honestly, and in as independent a manner as possible, so that you can make up your own mind.
The spurious story about a list of fake olive oils has instead turned into a story about how a highly reputable brand was set up for a hit, was widely and unfairly disparaged, and fought back with pure, unadulterated facts to prove the claims were false, misleading, and mean-spirited. The story is how Bertolli proved that its good name could not so easily be tainted.
In a short video, the CEO of Deoleo, Pierluigi Tosato, shares some insights into how the company, as the world market leader, took responsibility for guiding the industry towards improved practices, from the farm to the shops, and including testing standards. “We have to be certain,” Tosato says, “that nobody can cheat.” Please take a few moments to watch the video here.