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Greasing the wheels of justice: Olive oil tycoons suing Slope mom and pop • Brooklyn Paper

Greasing the wheels of justice: Olive oil tycoons suing Slope mom and pop

Tasting room: Greg Bernarducci pours olive oil out for discerning extra virgin fans in his Williamsburg store, O Live.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Big Olive Oil is giving a Park Slope grocer the squeeze!

Trade group the North American Olive Oil Association sued Fifth Avenue’s O Live Brooklyn in federal court on Monday, alleging the small-time gourmet grocer and its distributor are smearing the good name of supermarket-shelf olive oil brands by claiming their fancy products offer health benefits the mass-market ones don’t.

But the local purveyor of lipid gold says he’s no snake-oil salesman — and he’s baffled that the oil tycoons are pitting themselves against the very businesses they are supposed to support, instead of offering an olive branch.

“I consider us on the same team,” said proprietor Greg Bernarducci, whose mom and pop taproom offers tasting classes and oils infused with herbs and spices. “We both want people to eat good olive oil, that’s why I find this very strange.”

The New Jersey-based association — which represents the companies behind 55–60 percent of all olive oil sold in the country, according to its suit — is alleging that Bernarducci’s supplier Veronica Foods and six other area retailers hawking the California company’s products are costing its members sales through “online statements, articles, and promotional pieces” that claim the fruit fat at your local Key Food or C-Town are less fresh and therefore not as good for you as their “Ultra-Premium” variety.

The group insists the big-brands’ $8 bottles of olive oil contain the same health benefits consumers expect — typically, a lower risk of heart disease — as the $20 vessels in specialty stores, but shoppers are being duped into paying more.

“We don’t want consumers to be misled into making a false choice between buying a more expensive olive oil or not buying olive oil at all,” said Eryn Balch, the cooking-oil confederation’s executive vice president.

The suit further alleges that the Ultra-Premium label Veronica slaps on its products is a self-awarded certification and therefore deceives shoppers by insinuating it is supported and verified by a third party.

The Ultra-Premium website describes it as “the highest quality standard in the world” but doesn’t mention that the designation is exclusive to Veronica Foods, the suit argues.

But Bernarducci claims the company isn’t misleading anyone by calling its oil super high-quality, because that’s exactly what it is — even by the association’s own standards, which are set, of course, by the International Olive Council.

“Our oils have to meet certain standards which are above industry standards for us to sell in our store,” he said.

Bernarducci claims he doesn’t explicitly tell shoppers that other olive oils are less of a boon to your body, but he does warn them to be wary of brands that don’t spell out their chemical components or crush dates on the labels.

“I would say if they sent their oils out for chemical analysis like our oils are, my guess is they would come back lacking,” he said.

The association is seeking damages for members’ alleged losses and for the court to nix the Ultra-Premium trademark.

Bernaducci and Veronica Foods aren’t the North American Olive Oil Association’s only targets — the body also sued television’s Dr. Oz last month for saying that around 80 percent of supermarket olive oils aren’t “the real deal” during a May episode.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.

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