Don't Call Colavita `Industrial Olive Oil'

I would like to correct and clarify some points in "Where olives are the most pressing matter" (Letter from Italy, Dec. 19). First of all, your article compares the extra virgin olive oil from a small producer with what the producer's son, Massimo Gilardi, calls "industrial oil." According to the article, "industrial oils" are "oils produced in large quantities...extracted with chemicals and treated thermally to reduce acidity and color." You also say: "The better-known commercial brands, such as Bertolli and Colavita, account for the lion's share of the market in both Italy and the U.S."

It is ludicrous to compare extra virgin olive oil, whether produced by Gilardi or Bertolli or Colavita, with ordinary olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is defined as oil produced from the first cold pressing of the olives, with acidity below 1% and with excellent taste, aroma, and color. Ordinary olive oil is produced by refining oils that do not meet the criteria for extra virgin olive mil. The refined product is typically colorless and tasteless; some character is added by enriching the oil with virgin oils to produce what is commonly known as olive oil. Thus "olive oil," by definition, is a refined product, just like other commercially available vegetable oils such as canola, soy, and corn oils. For Gilardi to say that such oils are "poisonous," and for your magazine to repeat it without qualification, is grossly irresponsible.

Also, Colavita does not have the lion's share of the olive oil market,

neither in the U.S. nor in Italy. Recent supermarket sales data suggest that Colavita's share of the U.S. market

is in the range of only 3%. Probably 95% of Colavita's sales are extra virgin olive oil--not the "industrial oil" you mention.

Colavita is a small, family-owned company that has built its reputation on quality, buying and bottling extra virgin olive oils from Italian growers like the Gilardi family. The Colavita family stands behind every bottle of oil sold. Colavita extra virgin olive oil is used in some of the finest restaurants in the U.S.

Joseph R. Profaci

Vice-President and General Counsel

Colavita USA

Linden, N.J.

Editor's note: The story erred in characterizing the market share for Colavita. The "poisonous" remark was hyperbolic and was not intended to be taken literally.