A 39 year Specialty Food industry veteran, Maria Reyes, immigrated to the United States with her family in 1969. Specialty Foods is not only a career but a passion. Moved up the ranks in the industry with a background in purchasing/supply chain. Twelve years ago changed direction and focused on another side of the business, category product management and there found a passion for helping suppliers grow their brands and six years ago, discovered the wonders of premium olive oil.
Over the last six years, Maria has invested many hours reading, learning, seeking out mentors and building a worldwide network of experts in the olive oil industry that has helped train many of the national retailers serviced by KeHE Distributors. In 2015, Maria was a guest speaker at the New York International Olive Oil Competition as well as other industry events and has had several articles published in industry publications as well as KeHE Distributors internal publications. In 2015, Maria was nominated as a Progressive Grocer Woman of Influence in the industry and in 2017 named KeHE’s Overall Women Empowered award.
Maria Reyes will attend the 7th World Olive Oil Exhibition as keynote speaker and guest of honor.
- Which are the main challenges facing the future development of the olive oil market in your country?
Even though the category sales for olive oil has been growing, the per capita consumption of olive oil in the US is barely 1 LT per.
The challenges have been the same for a while now.
In my opinion, the two biggest issues are:
1. The market is flooded with cheap, poor quality bad tasting oil.
2. The consumer is still very confused as to what type of oil they should be buying.
Both of these two issues can be tied back to retailer and consumer education. The buyer for the retailer that decides what to place on their store shelves should take the time (which often they do not have) and educate themselves on the category as a whole. The right questions should be asked and there should be a verification process in order to ensure that what is being placed on the shelf is what the label says it is. The consumers play a large role in this and have demonstrated that they are willing to pay more for a quality product. We have seen sales of premium gourmet olive oil increase over the last 4-5 years. Premium quality oil sells but there are also a lot of pressures from other oils such as coconut oil, avocado oil and ghee. To sum it up, I would say that education and a clear understanding of how to merchandise and market premium olive oil is the main challenge.
- Could you comment on the local olive oil production in USA?
The local California oil production has seen tremendous growth over the last 6 years. The state of California has very strong standards for olive oil grown and bottled in their state. California Olive Ranch is the largest brand grown and bottled in the US and currently ranked #4 in the country. Some say, that today, California olive oil production is where wine was 20 years ago; however, there is not enough oil to meet the overall demand of the US consumers. We will see how things continue to progress.
- Which markets are currently showing the most promise for olive oil imports in the USA?
The North East market has always been the strongest. The South East and the Midwest are also very strong oil markets but the category does very well on a national scale.
- This is the first time you will visit WOOE, what do you expect to find in this Spanish fair?
I am very much looking forward to finally being able to attend this event. I expect to see and try many top quality olive oils as well as meet the people behind the brands. I love talking to the owners of these brands and seeing the passion and love for their products, land and beautiful olive trees.