Olive Oil

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 24 olive oil brands.

We also look at the environmental issues of mass production, shine a spotlight on the ethics of Zaytoun and give our recommended buys.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

What to buy

What to look for when buying olive oil:

  • Is it organic? Synthetic pesticides and herbicides threaten insect populations, contaminate water sources and can have ecosystem-wide knock-on effects. Look for organic certification to avoid ingredients grown with these chemicals, and to support farming methods that are more in tune with nature.

  • Is it bought local? Many supermarkets are notorious for their poor treatment of suppliers, and those producing their own-brand products. Shopping local also often means finding smaller, more ethical brands.

  • Is it Fairtrade? Many agricultural products are grown by overworked and underpaid workers. Look for Fairtrade to ensure that the person growing the olives for your oil is paid a fair wage and receives fair working conditions.

Best Buys

Our Best Buys are all organic, and two are also Fairtrade [F]:

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying olive oil:

  • Is it packaged in plastic? The plastic in our oceans could circle the planet 400 times. It is threatening marine ecosystems and contributing to climate change. Opt for cooking oil packaged in glass instead.

  • Is it intensively farmed? Over-exploitation of water resources for intensive olive farming has led to soil erosion and desertification in Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal. Look for organic to avoid olives that have been intensively farmed. 

  • Is it grown using pesticides? For agricultural workers and local people, the health impacts of extensive agrochemical use are numerous, not to mention the environmental issues. Opt for organic olive oil.

Companies to avoid

We recommend avoiding avoiding own-brand olive oil from Asda, which scores 0 on our ratings as it is owned by Walmart.

  • Asda

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20)

Zaytoun Palestinian extra virgin olive oil [F,O]

Company Profile: Zaytoun
17

Clearspring Organic Olive Oil [O]

Company Profile: Clearspring Ltd
16

Mr Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil [O]

Company Profile: The Organic Family Ltd
16

Equal Exchange Organic Olive Oil [O,F]

Company Profile: Equal Exchange Ltd
15.5

Sunita Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil [O]

Company Profile: Skoulikas Bedford Limited
15

Biona organic olive oil [O]

Company Profile: Windmill Organics Ltd
14.5

Raw Health Organic Olive Oil [O]

Company Profile: Windmill Organics Ltd
14.5

Suma organic olive oil [O]

Company Profile: Triangle Wholefoods Collective Ltd
14.5

Essential cooking oils [O]

Company Profile: Essential Trading Co-operative Ltd
14

Hellenic Sun Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Company Profile: Skoulikas Bedford Limited
14

Meridian organic olive oil [O]

Company Profile: Meridian Foods Ltd
14

KTC olive oil

Company Profile: KTC (Edibles) Ltd
10.5

Filippo Berio

Company Profile: Filippo Berio UK Limited
9

M&S Organic Olive Oil [O]

Company Profile: Marks & Spencer Group plc
6

Co-op Olive oil

Company Profile: Co-operative Group Ltd
5

M&S Olive Oil

Company Profile: Marks & Spencer Group plc
5

Waitrose Organic Olive Oil [O]

Company Profile: Waitrose Limited
4.5

Sainsbury's SO Organic Olive Oil [O]

Company Profile: J Sainsbury plc
3.5

Waitrose Olive Oil

Company Profile: Waitrose Limited
3.5

Aldi Olive Oil

Company Profile: ALDI SOUTH Group
3

Lidl Primadonna Olive Oil

Company Profile: Lidl UK GmbH
3

Sainsbury's Olive Oil

Company Profile: J Sainsbury plc
2.5

Morrisons olive oil

Company Profile: Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc
2

Napolina olive oil

Company Profile: Napolina Ltd
2

Napolina organic olive oil [O]

Company Profile: Napolina Ltd
2

Tesco Organic Olive Oil [O]

Company Profile: Tesco plc
2

Olivio Olive Oil

Company Profile: Unilever
1

Tesco Olive Oil

Company Profile: Tesco plc
1

Asda Olive Oil

Company Profile: Asda Group Ltd
0

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Product sustainability

Our Analysis

European countries are some of the world’s top producers of olive oil and are renowned not only for the amount they produce but also the quality. Since 2014, poor crops have severely affected some of Europe’s main producers and production has fallen dramatically.

In 2014, it was estimated that Spanish production was down by nearly 50% compared to the previous year. In particular, unusual weather and a proliferation of insects and bacterial blight had devastated the harvests. The crisis was a big blow to the Southern European producers who are already struggling to emerge from dire economic straits. Conversely North African countries had bumper years, with Tunisia becoming the world’s second largest producer in 2014.

As with all the oil markets, it is impossible to know the country of origin for many of the brands as there is no legal requirement to disclose this information. The more widely available brands such as Filippo Berio and Napolina seem to make claims about their heritage on their websites. However, there is no specific information on where the olives used in the oils are actually grown. Both brands score poorly on the table, in particular under Environmental Reporting and Supply Chain Management.

According to market research company Mintel, supermarkets’ own-brand olive oil accounted for 47% of the market in 2014/15, followed by Napolina (21%) and Filippo Berio (20%). The remainder of the market is made up of smaller brands.

Mass production and environmental issues

A seminal 2001 report by the Worldwide Wildlife Foundation (WWF) and Birdlife International, ‘EU policies for olive farming: Unsustainable on all counts’, detailed how the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) had led to increased production of olive groves at the expense of the environment.

It stated: “Intensified olive farming is a major cause of one of the biggest environmental problems affecting the EU today: the widespread soil erosion and desertification in Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal. The expansion of irrigated olive production is increasing the over-exploitation of water resources that have already been eroded by other agricultural sectors.”

While the subsidy, which paid farmers for the amount they produced, was stopped in 2007 the effect of the industrialisation of olive growing has left its scars, and recent drought conditions experienced by olive-producing countries over the past years will no doubt have been intensified due to this environmental degradation.

Small scale farmers

On the whole though, most European olive farming is characterised by a large number of small operations. These are often traditional farms with older trees typically planted on upland terraces. The farmers manage their groves with few or no agrochemicals, less water and less machinery. Olives are picked off the ground by hand and the oil is extracted by grinding the olives in a millstone and press.

Organic olive oil

For consumers wanting to avoid intensive farming, look for the following organic certified olive oil: Equal Exchange, Zaytoun, Mr Organic, Biona, Clearspring, Essential, Raw Health, Suma, Meridian, Sunita, M&S, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Napolina and Tesco.

Company Profile

Zaytoun was founded in 2004 to support the resilience and livelihoods of Palestinian farmers under occupation through fairly trading their olive oil. It was founded after Heather Masoud and Cathi Pawson visited Palestine and accompanied Palestinian farmers harvesting their crops. Witnessing the Israeli occupation first hand, they sought to transform their anger at injustice into action, and Zaytoun was born soon after.

A fair trade company and member of the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO), Zaytoun also supports a model of agriculture that is naturally organic, sustainable and that is “rooted in time and tradition”.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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