Olive oil sales are showing the first signs of recovering from an unprecedented slump in sales brought about by soaring prices.

The latest Nielsen data shows year-on-year volume sales have risen 1% in the past four weeks - an improvement on the 8.7% decline recorded in the previous four-week data, and on the category’s performance over the year as a whole.

Over the past 12 months, shoppers have cut back as the price of some lines rocketed by more than 20%. Although sales have only fallen 0.9% year on year by volume [Nielsen 52 w/e 14 September 2013], this follows 10 years of consistent growth, according to Filippo Berio managing director Walter Zanre.

“The decline is due to the dramatic increase in the cost of the raw material,” he added, claiming the commodity cost of olive oil had risen more than 40% since last September.

This has been reflected in retail price rises. Nielsen data shows the average retail price per litre across the olive oil market has risen 4.6% in the past year - and 12% in the past 12 weeks.

But research by The Grocer revealed the volume price of branded and own-label olive oil lines stocked at the big four retailers has soared an average of 23.4% year on year [BrandView].

Zanre said he believed shoppers would adjust to paying higher prices. “We are convinced the decline is a temporary blip,” he added.

However, prices are set to ease as a good crop is expected from Spain - although other European crops may be short.

Meanwhile, the overall cooking oil market is down 2% by volume. “Some movement is due to healthier lifestyles,” said one supplier, “but the fall is more due to shoppers’ lack of cash.”

Vegetable oil was hit hardest, with volume down 8.8%, while sunflower grew 5.6%.