Olive bar sales have been stagnant for the last two years, but for a product that’s been harvested for over 8,000, a lull is probably to be expected. There are bright spots within this product category however, and they shine on reinventing the presentation of your olive bar into an area of specialty offerings, featuring olives from manufacturers that are pushing the envelope with both flavor and variety.
First let’s look at the numbers: according to Nielsen, olive bars were responsible for $145 million in sales in the 52 weeks ending Nov. 26, 2016 — a 1.8 percent increase when compared to the year prior. And while the volume sold actually decreased by 0.2 percent, average retail prices increased by 2 percent, keeping olive bars’ dollar contributions to the deli department at a steady 0.6 percent over both years. That’s not too impressive.
Yet olives are being reimagined as never before, and the varieties are multiplying not just in appearance, but in flavors, stuffings and pairings. “It’s a whole eating experience, because there are so many beautiful flavors in olives that olive bars have to offer,” says Debbie Jones, service deli sales manager for Pavilions and Safeway. “But in the way our specialty format is growing, the expansion of variety is really key.”
For example, Ficacci Olive Company specializes in fresh Italian table olives. Giuseppe Ficacci, its CMO, says that their olives are never pasteurized, leaving them crunchier and more flavorful. “Fresh olives are less salty, more tasty, preservative-free, more crunchy and prettier because they’re not stressed by thermal treatments,” he says. “Ficacci’s strength point lies with a deep assortment both in terms of types of olives and of recipes. The latter are prepared according to the vast cooking traditions of our country, catching ideas from almost every Italian region.”
Those recipes have resulted in some truly intriguing and colorful flavors and stuffings, and have been key to keeping Ficacci olives relevant. “When talking about pairings,” he says, “one of the finest trends is our latest range, The Sweet Temptations — a blend between olives and sweet ingredients like orange, blueberry, raisins and lime, all reaching a surprising combination between flavor and color.”
Star Fine Foods, a company based in the US, has also brought variety to the marketplace with their line of Farmer’s Market olives, which include olives with Provencal herbs, seasoned with basil, stuffed with minced pimiento, and their pitted manzanillo olives.
Though as noted, it’s not just variety but presentation of olives as a specialty ingredient that kicks up sales. When asked what she thinks retailers could do to improve theirs, Jones’ answer is as simple as it is quick: “I think what retailers need to do is stop calling it an olive bar,” she says. “It needs to be a ‘Mediterranean Bar,’ ‘Mediterranean Experience,’ or ‘Antipasti,’ because we have to always change. With olives there’s so much variety they complement just about anything you do, and with specialty foods in general, I will tell you — it’s had double-digit growth for us.”