California's Extra Virgin Olive Oil Engine - Part 1

Posted by Shawn Addison on


I frequently find myself in conversations about how the olive oil industry is doing and usually reference SHD production and get blank looks. SHD is Super High Density production and I am surprised how many people tangentially involved in the industry still don't know either what it is nor how important it is to the success of domestic olive oil production.  

SHD production was really driven in the U.S. by California Olive Ranch (C.O.R.) soon after 2000. At the time there were many skeptics and C.O.R. operated with a very open format sharing what they were doing with anyone interested in listening. Alan Greene was leading the operation at that time and was an excellent ambassador for the industry and I think should be given a lot of credit for the domestic industry being where it is today. 

SHD production is the result of three varieties of olives, Arbequina, Arbosano, and Koroneiki having been cloned to grow like vines. The advantage of this horticultural practice is that it allows mechanical pruning and more importantly mechanical harvesting. Mechanical harvesting is 4 to 5 times more efficient than hand harvesting and in a country where labor costs can be as much as 5 times higher than in many other oil producing countries, this labor cost saving alone can keep domestically produced oil competitive with imported traditionally produced oil.

SHD oil is very good oil. A lot of small producers want to discredit it as bad oil, industrial oil, factory farmed oil or any number of other derogatory descriptions, but in the end, it is perfectly good extra virgin olive oil. The only drawback to it that I can define is that it is a very standardized oil, which in some ways is good. You can be pretty certain that you're not going to be surprised by any "interesting" flavors, good or bad.


The vast majority of growth in the domestic olive oil sector is in the SHD arena. While C.O.R. was the only major player in the field 15 years ago, there are now too many good sized SHD companies to list. As any small producer will tell you, trying to compete with SHD production is a tall order and one has to work hard to carve out a market niche to distinguish their production. More on this in my next post.

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