Olive marketing efforts reach out to youth demographic

By TIM HEARDEN

Capital Press

CORNING, Calif. -- Table olive distributors still have 7 million cans in storage despite another disappointing crop in 2011, the head of a state marketing group said.

Growers in California ended up with just under 27,000 tons from last year's harvest, noted Alexander Ott, executive director of the California Olive Committee. That's a mere drop in the bucket compared to the record 195,000 tons harvested in 2010.

Still, inventories grew from the 5.3 million cans on hand after last season, Ott said, which is causing the committee to ramp up its marketing programs.

The panel is using Twitter and Facebook and attending blogger conferences to reach younger consumers who aren't as aware of California olives, even though they've long been grown in the state.

"It's really starting to put a face to the industry," Ott told about 100 growers during a seminar here April 18. "I couldn't tell you how many times I've been to a conference and people have said, 'Really, California grows olives? I didn't know that.'"

The efforts come as California, which produces nearly all of the nation's commercial table olives, has suffered through poor crops in four of the last six seasons. Adverse weather during the bloom stifled the 2011 crop as orchards were already stressed from the previous year's heavy loads and an early-winter frost in 2010.

In a typical year, nearly 60 percent of California olives go into oil while the rest is canned for table olives, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation. Struggles have caused some growers to bulldoze orchards. As many as 1,400 acres were taken out last year. California's estimated 28,000 acres of olives for canning during last year's harvest was down from a peak of nearly 40,000 acres in the 1980s, according to Adin Hester of the Olive Growers Council of California.

Still, California ripe olive producers contribute nearly $500 million a year and 3,555 jobs to the state's economy, according to a report earlier this year commissioned by the California Olive Committee.

The committee, which was created under a federal marketing order, is promoting olives to school lunch programs and at cooking shows and expos, and a couple of "Farm to Fork Harvest Tours" will introduce bloggers and other media to farms and canning operations, Ott said.

The committee is also funding research, including for solutions to olive knot, a bacterial disease that is on the rise in the Central Valley. The pathogen enters trees through freeze injuries or scars and affects fruit yield and quality.

Online

California Olive Committee: http://calolive.org/

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