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The Los Angeles Times reports that a group of chefs and restaurants has sued a number of retailers charging them with selling olive oil misleadingly labeled as “extra virgin olive oil.”

According to the story, “The group filed a complaint in Orange County Superior Court this week claiming that several retailers and olive oil producers, including such varied outlets as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Bristol Farms, have misled Californians for years about the actual quality of the olive oil on sale ... Plaintiffs are seeking an injunction preventing the questionable oil from being distributed and may also request hundreds of millions of dollars in restitution for ‘fraudulently obtained profits’.”

The Times writes that “the slew of defendants also includes Gelson's Markets, Kmart, Target Corp. and others, who are accused of charging a high premium for impostor oil. The suit doesn't name several retailers such as Trader Joe's and Costco because, attorney Daniel Callahan said, their olive oil products aren't adulterated.”

The suite comes on the heels of a report conducted by the University of California, Davis Olive Oil Chemistry Laboratory and the Australian Oils Research Laboratory that found that almost 70 percent of imported extra virgin olive oils and 10 percent of domestic extra virgin olive oils did not meet the International Olive Council and U.S. Dept. of Agriculture taste, smell and chemical standards for extra virgin olive oil.” All of the brands tested were bought in a variety of US supermarkets.

The results of the report have been challenged by both the International Olive Council (IOO) and the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA), which have argued with the report’s methodology and the size of its sample.
KC's View:
I am not sure that suing retailers is necessarily the best move, if only because one could argue that they have been as much a victim of deception as the people who bought the EVOO from store shelves.

However, I made this argument a few weeks ago, and I stand by it. Whether or not retailers can fairly be blamed, they do have some responsibility because they sold the olive oil. They are seen by consumers as being the last line of defense against a food chain that some see as being rigged against the shopper. And so they are going to take a hit on this.

Any retailer selling private label EVOO ought to immediately send it out for testing, and ought to be up front with shoppers about this controversy. I might even pull all questionable brands off the shelf until the issue is resolved. At the very least, I’d do everything possible and necessary to insure that I retained the confidence and trust of my shoppers.