Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a jump in prices of sunflower oil has created an opportunity for growers of one of Spain’s most well-known products – olive oil.
Even though Spanish stores limited sunflower oil purchases to a few bottles per person, stocks were quickly depleted, pushing businesses to stock up on the local alternative.
“I like to say we have an ace up our sleeve,” said Primitivo Fernandez, president of the national association of edible oil bottlers. “In Spain bottled oil consumption is guaranteed because we have enough olive oil.”
Sunflower oil from Ukraine accounts for almost 40 per cent of Spain’s total imports, or 400,000 tonnes, that supplements the 300,000 tonnes it produces in the country.
According to the most recent government data, the price of sunflower oil has jumped by 64 per cent in the last week.
According to market analyst NielsenIQ, which was quoted by Spanish state television, sales of all edible oils increased by 289 per cent compared to the same week in 2021 as buyers stored up.
People should avoid panic buying, as was witnessed during the early stages of the Covid-19 outbreak, according to retailers.
“It happened with toilet paper in 2020, now it is happening with sunflower oil or flour. It’s hoarding, nothing more,” Juan Roig, owner of Spain’s largest supermarket chain Mercadona, told an annual earnings event.
Spain produces more olive oil than it uses, and a third of its virgin and refined oil production is exported.
While it searches for alternate markets, the sector predicts it will have 1.5 million tonnes of olive oil and another 250,000 tonnes of olive pomace oil (a highly refined by-product) to fill the gap in Ukrainian imports.
Spain also intends to sell more olive oil to France and Germany, its neighbours. Fernandez stated, “We are certain that this is an opportunity.” “We’ll most likely be able to contact new customers.”
The Spanish government has joined the chorus of people promoting olive oil as a solution to shortages, with Agriculture Minister Luis Planas telling local television on March 14 that it could easily be swapped for sunflower oil.
“I have personally verified in the supermarket that some olive oils are labelled as oil for frying – a practical demonstration that it can and should be used for such,” he said.
However, several restaurateurs, processed food producers, fish canneries, and bakers disagree that the two oils are interchangeable.
The team at the Mallorca patisserie in southern Madrid is frying torrijas, a sweet bread, milk, and sugar confection cooked in giant cauldrons of sunflower oil, at full pelt.
One of the chain’s owners, Jacobo Moreno, said he had to accept the cost of sunflower oil jumping from 1.2 euros per litre to 2.60 euros per litre over four days to ensure the quality of output for the unique Easter season.
Even so, it is less expensive than olive oil, which costs roughly 4 euros per litre.
“It is true that in Spain what we have most and are most famous for is olive oil, but the reality is that it’s not suitable for baking because of its aggressive flavour,” he said.
Sunflower oil must also be used in biscuits, chocolate creams for filling pastries, and packaged breads, according to Ruben Moreno Pardo, secretary general of the Spanish Confectionery Association.
“We are two, maximum three weeks away from running out of sunflower oil stock,” he said.
His sector is looking into vegetable oils like corn or coconut, but there is currently no reliable source in Spain.
Manufacturers of canned fish use sunflower oil in at least 50% of their production. Although they use olive oil, they are concerned that the stronger flavour and higher cost may turn off customers, said to Juan Vieites, secretary general of the national canning association. On the other hand, when his inventory of sunflower oil dries out, chef Alejandro Aguilar intends to unwillingly convert to olive oil to fry fish in his restaurant in the southern city of Ronda.
“The plan is to fry with olive (oil), there’s no other option. I don’t like any other oils,” he said.
(Adapted from Reuters.com)