The health benefits associated with olive oil together with an increased interest in Mediterranean foods have contributed to the growth of an "invigorated" market for the product in the US, according to a new report.
The nation's olive oil market, which grew at a rate of around 8 percent per year between 2001 and 2005, is expected to reach $968 million in 2006, up from $894 million in 2005, says the new study from Packaged Facts.
And by 2010 it is forecast to surpass $1.3bn.
Olive oil is a key component of the Mediterranean diet and thought to be responsible for the longevity of southern European populations and their low rates of heart disease.
During the last 20 years, hundreds of studies have investigated the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. But last year saw some breakthroughs in pinpointing why olive oil has a protective action against heart disease and cancer, making an even stronger case for consuming more olive oil.
In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a health claim for olive oil, for its potential to reduce coronary heart disease (CHD). But the agency remained cautious, qualifying this by noting that any benefits could only be attained if people did not increase the total number of calories consumed daily.
The FDA had said in a statement that "there is limited but not conclusive evidence that suggests that consumers may reduce their risk of CHD if they consume monounsaturated fat from olive oil and olive oil-containing foods in place of foods high in saturated fat".
According to the latest report, entitled Olive Oil in the US, demand for olive oil has soared on the back of these health claims. In 2004 alone, consumption of olive oil was up 16% from 2001, when Americans consumed 212,102 metric tons.
"Along with health, flavor has become a passion with American olive oil connoisseurs. Olive oil tasting bars have been gaining in popularity since 2001, and unique olive oil boutiques, which sell olives and olive oils exclusively, are cropping up all over the country as American palates become more familiar with the flavor intricacies of various regional oils," said the report.
"Origin/region oils and estate oils harvested and extracted on individual farms are gaining momentum as a multitude of high end olive oils appear on supermarket shelves, gourmet shops, and in menu items throughout the country," said Don Montuori, of Packaged Facts.
"Consumers are falling in love with the oil that is 'good for you' and that is paying off for the big marketers as well as private labels in this country."