Differentiating Bertolli's Olive Oils
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Holmes Report

Differentiating Bertolli's Olive Oils

The Bertolli public relations campaign had to convey the benefits of olive oil in general, and also help to differentiate the flavor varieties from one another and the competition.

Paul Holmes


Founded in Italy in 1865, Bertolli expanded its business worldwide in the 1950s.  Currently the world’s leading producer and marketer of olive oil, Bertolli USA (a Unilever company) has worked with Vorhaus & Company Inc. since 1995 to strengthen its ties to its Italian heritage, build brand awareness and encourage trial.

From January through December 2000, under threat of new competition from other types of fats and pourable oils, as well as from other olive oil purveyors, Bertolli and Vorhaus created a comprehensive branding campaign targeted to Bertolli’s key audiences.


Besides the common barriers, such as competition and generating media interest in a commercial brand, Vorhaus and Bertolli faced obstacles related to differentiating its flavor varieties.  Bertolli produces four flavor varieties, Extra Virgin, Gentilé al Palato Extra Virgin, Virgin and Extra Light Olive Oil, each with its own distinct usages and characteristics.  As such, the Bertolli public relations campaign had to convey the benefits of olive oil in general, and also help to differentiate the flavor varieties from one another and the competition.


Budgetary and calendar constraints were assessed to ensure maximum coverage for each audience within the scope of available resources (time, money and staff). A timeline and plan were created.

Vorhaus and Bertolli had three overall objectives for the campaign:  

Build Bertolli brand awareness, encourage trial, and establish Bertolli as the best choice of oil (olive or otherwise) for chefs, consumers and health professionals.

Vorhaus and Bertolli researched events and conferences to reach key audiences directly and through media coverage.  The public relations activities were selected using Web research, informal polling, analysis of past media coverage and audience data provided by event organizers.  


Vorhaus and Bertolli selected three prestigious and credible spokespeople to deliver key Bertolli messages at events and conferences:  Riska Platt, MS, registered dietician; Nick Stellino, international chef, cookbook author and host of PBS’ “Nick Stellino’s Family Kitchen;” and Jim Shiebler aka “The Body Gourmet,” chef and fitness expert.

Bertolli’s key audiences include:

  • Culinary professionals
  • Consumers of all levels of culinary expertise with an interest in cooking
  • Registered dieticians, nutritionists and other health professionals
  • Grocery retail/trade (including chains, club stores, food service and food brokers)
  • Members of the food, health and consumer media


Following are some of the events and conferences that were selected based on location (key Bertolli markets are on the East and West Coasts), attendees and content.

Boston Cooks!, Boston, MA, with Bertolli booth traffic of more than 20,000 consumers over three days.  (Audiences:  Consumers and media.)

The International Association of Culinary Professionals Conference of which Bertolli was the Platinum Sponsor.  Bertolli also executed a national video highlights package of the event’s Culinary Concert featuring Emeril Lagasse, Julia Child and Martin Yan.  (Audiences:  Consumers, media and culinary professionals.)

The James Beard Awards at which Bertolli presented the Bertolli Olive Oil America’s Regional Classics Awards to seven restaurants from around the United States.  Bertolli is also The Official Olive Oil of the James Beard House in New York.  (Audiences:  Culinary professionals and media.)

Food & Wine Classic at Aspen, which included cooking demonstrations by Bertolli spokesperson, Nick Stellino.  (Audiences:  Consumers and media.)

American Dietetic Association (ADA) Conference, Denver, CO, including a special symposium given by Bertolli spokesperson, Riska Platt, and cooking demonstrations by Bertolli spokesperson, Jim Shiebler.  (Audiences:  Health and nutrition professionals and media.)

Les Dames d’Escoffier, San Francisco, CA.  (Audience:  Culinary professionals.)

Architectural Digest Home Show, New York, NY, including cooking demonstrations by Bertolli spokesperson, Nick Stellino.  (Audience:  Consumers.)

Taste of Home Homemaker Cooking Schools, with 125 cooking sessions across the country attracting more than 125,000 consumers.  (Audience:  Consumers.)

Participation at many events, including ADA Conference, Boston Cooks! and Food & Wine Classic at Aspen, was augmented by local network affiliate television and/or print coverage.

Other Bertolli/Vorhaus initiatives included:

Passionate Pairings:  Olive Oil and Wine Media Dinner hosted by Bertolli spokesperson, Nick Stellino, and co-sponsored by Bolla Wines of Italy.  Held at the prestigious Sotheby’s auction house, the evening showcased all varieties of Bertolli Olive Oil paired with different Bolla Wines.  Over 30 members of the media attended, including individuals from marquee media outlets Food & Wine, The New York Times and Food Arts.

The Bertolli Sous Chef Awards were announced in December 2000.  When presented in 2001, the awards will recognize the top 10 Sous Chefs in the United States through nominations by their restaurants, members of the media or members of the public at large.   Winners will be flown to New York for a reception at the Bertolli Culinary Festival at Lyndhurst in Tarrytown, NY, in August 2001.

Satellite Media Tour (SMT) featuring cooking demonstrations by Bertolli spokesperson, Jim Shiebler, with a topic of “Healthy Summer Grilling.”  The SMT produced 4.5 million impressions with 115 airings across 64 media markets.

Spokesperson appearances at major retailers, including Shop Rite, Stop and Shop, BJ’s and Macy’s.  

Matte release entitled, “A More Healthful, Tasty Way of Eating,” featuring Riska Platt and a Bertolli recipe.  Article generated hits in 680 newspapers in 30 states with a total major media market readership of approximately 50 million.

Color Food Page entitled, “Mediterranean Sunshine.”  Media impressions totaled 7.5 million.

Seasonal mailings with Bertolli recipes and photography, as well as mailings regarding Bertolli and the highly touted Mediterranean Diet.

Production of The Olive Press (Circ. 10,000), a quarterly newsletter specifically for nutritionists, registered dieticians and health and nutrition media, along with Bertolli quarterly postcards touting story ideas and spokesperson availability for media.


Bertolli reached all of its key audiences.

With overall impressions totaling more than 47,000,000, the Bertolli brand received major media coverage in The Wall Street Journal; WNBC’s “Today in New York;” Women’s World; Talk America Radio; Aspen Daily News; National Public Radio; Supermarket News; Gourmet; WNBC-TV (NBC) Boston, MA; and KUSA-TV (NBC) Denver, CO.   (A mid-year highlights reel is enclosed.)

Additionally, through attendance at and sponsorship of conferences and consumer events, Bertolli came into personal contact with more than 205,000 individuals in its key audiences.
For the first six months of 2000, Bertolli did no advertising, relying on public relations efforts to drive trial and consumption.  Nielsen share for the time period, January – December 2000:  Bertolli pound sales were +30.6% versus the same time period one year ago. Dollars were +20.1%.  Bertolli internal warehouse movement was +23.2% in cases.  

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