business news in context, analysis with attitude

The Los Angeles Times has a long piece about "a new state law punishes those who improperly use the California name to peddle oil from elsewhere … The movement that led to the new law triggered one of the biggest food fights in California since Napa vintners got the state to ban charlatans from marketing their wines with the region’s name. It has implications extending far beyond the scenic olive groves of Northern California, drawing into the debate food safety advocates, global marketing consultants, even hedge fund players who see potential for big profits in products labeled as Californian."

The story notes that "food industry players worldwide have closely watched California’s dispute between boutique operations and the nation’s olive oil giant, Chico-based California Olive Ranch. Backed by tens of millions of dollars from equity firms and institutional investors, California Olive Ranch has industrialized olive oil making in the state, replacing handpicking with machines and supplanting the traditional olive grove with a method called super-high-density planting.

"Its lower-cost bottles are on the shelves of 30,000 big-box stores, supermarkets and other retailers around the country. But the labels on its Global Blend had to be changed with the new state law that mandates the word 'California' — even in a brand name — cannot be any bigger on the bottle than the type used to disclose other places where the olives came from."

The story points out that it could've been worse - an early version of the law would've prevented it from even using the California Olive Ranch name on any bottle containing olive oil sourced from anyplace else.

The Times also offer some context, that California Olive Ranch originally only sold olive oil sourced from the state, but had to expand its sources "when drought hit in 2018 and the olive harvest plummeted."  But while the opposition tends to characterize the company as being run by hedge fund interlopers from out of state, CEO Michael Fox says that it is a Californias company run by Californians that has "has done as much as any producer in the state to burnish the California extra virgin brand, pushing regulators to impose strict quality controls for anything labeled as such."

KC's View:

First, let me get one thing out of the way:  When California Olive Ranch was in its early days trying to establish the brand, it used MNB as an advertising vehicle, and even ran a pretty successful recipe contest on MNB.  For which I am grateful.  And, I continue to be a user of their product.

I've used the company's California oil, and its global blend, and I have to say that I've always been pretty clear about what I was buying and where it was sourced;  not once did I feel deceived or misled.

But I remain interested in the subject of sourcing, because I know it is one near and dear to farmers and regional authorities who feel legitimately passionate about their brand equity.  I do think that Californias Olive Ranch seems to have been above board in their attempts to communicate transparently about its products, but I'm also glad to see that the company plans to add a QR code that will help consumers get more information about the olive oils they are buying.

More transparency and greater amounts of information always are good approach in retailing … I've said it hundreds of times here on MNB, and I continue to believe it.