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Olive oil has long been popular with foodies and gourmets, but in more recent years, it has moved beyond specialty shops to show up on regular grocery stores. Total sales of olive oil in 2010 thus reached $1.1 billion, a 45 percent increase from 2005.

Part of the reason for its increasing popularity stems from consumers’ greater attention to health issues. Olive oil has one-third the saturated fat of the same amount of butter. In response, in a $1.5 million advertising blitz, the Pompeian brand is spreading the word with a new slogan: “Better baking starts with Pompeian Extra Light Tasting Olive Oil.”

This strategy represents Pompeian’s effort to move olive oil beyond the wok or frying pan. It wants consumers to think about using olive oil in recipes that do not call for it, such as salad dressings, pasta sauces, pumpkin muffins, chocolate cake, and spice cookies. These expanded uses would increase the brand’s share of consumers’ food wallets.

Other food products have succeeded with a similar strategy, working their way into more and more meals and snacks. Philadelphia cream cheese is great on bagels and in cheesecake, but it also can help make a quick alfredo or pesto sauce for pasta. Velveeta’s recipe for fudge calls for 12 ounces of Velveeta cheese. General Mills encourages consumers to eat Chex cereal with milk for breakfast, mix it up with seasonings as a snack or dessert, and then bake it into deep-dish chicken pie. And Yoplait offers healthy recipes for dieters that suggest ways to replace the fat in recipes by using yogurt especially instead of butter.

Yogurt should beware though. That’s exactly the kind of recipe substitution that olive oil is looking to dominate.

Discussion Question: Do you use products like olive oil, Philadelphia cream cheese, and Velveeta cheese in non-traditional ways?

Andrew Adam Newman, “Helping Ingredients Step Out of Their Comfort Zone,” The New York Times, December 5, 2010.

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