In 2011, Bill Sanders of First Fresh Olive Oil was interviewed, in which he demystified olive oil and promoted the launch of a kickstarter campaign raising money to start a private label selling quality olive oil in the United States at competitive prices. Since successfully raising the funds, he has garnered two outstanding industry recognized awards, crossed the country to introduce his peppery tasting olive oil by offering tastings and learned a few start-up marketing lessons. In this follow up interview, he explains his future goals, inspiration from a recent Sicilian trip for First Fresh Olive Oil and why using olive oil in desserts is better, especially for the recipe—Saffron Olive Oil Cookies with Blood Orange Glaze —at the end of the interview.
What’s the most important marketing lesson learned during the first few years of being a start-up food company?
Folks have to taste the product, especially olive oil. This past year, I conducted over 500 hours of tasting demonstrations personally from New York City to Atlanta, Georgia. If they taste, they buy. My First Fresh is a very personal product with my name and photo on the label. Having face-to-face interaction with consumers has proven vital to our success. Another valuable lesson learned is that folks rely on others for whom they trust for gourmet food recommendations—bloggers, social media and old-fashion, word-of-mouth among friends.
How did winning the silver medal in the 2012 California’s Olive Oil Council Awards (COOC) help your company and/or recognition in the industry?
In addition to our silver medal at COOC, First Fresh also garnered the second highest award, Prestige Gold, at Terraolivo, an international extra virgin olive oil competition in Jerusalem with 408 olive oils from 18 countries competing. Achieving this high recognition on an international stage gave our newly released olive oil major credibility and boosted sales. Consumers are bombarded with a deluge of choices. Anything that can differentiate your product from others is important.
Being in the olive oil business means traveling, and you’ve recently returned from Sicily. Is there any inspiration from this trip that we will see incorporated in the future?
The purpose of my trip to Sicily was to identify a Mediterranean olive oil to import. My current First Fresh—a California blend—is my premium oil. This new olive oil, called, 3 Village Blend, is a blend of three olive varieties—coratina, koroneiki and arbequina—from three different villages in the Mediterranean: Andria (Puglia), Italy; Kalamata, (Peloponnese), Greece and Arbequina, Écija (Andalusia), Spain. This will be an all purpose olive oil—the workhorse of the kitchen. Release is expected the end of April.
My other inspiration is the realization that having access to their fresh seafood daily would be heaven on earth.
When most people cook with olive oil, they use it in Italian or mediterranean-related recipes. Which type of regional American cuisine also complements olive oil well?
True, most folks associate olive oil with the Mediterranean cuisine. Olive oil is much more than about any cuisine. Spain’s Carme Ruscalleda, the only female chef to win six Michelin stars stated in the Olive Times a couple of years ago, “Yes we choose the freshest ingredients, but it is the olive oil that transform them. Everything flows from that.” One of the most remarkable attributes of olive oil is its ability to lose itself in food but change everything. As we all become focused on eating local, whether that is Kentucky, New York or North Dakota, olive oil is the great uniter, enhancing those fresh flavors.
To be more specific, production and consumption is growing in South America, China, Japan and other countries around the world making olive oil an essential component in cuisines across the globe. In the U.S for example, the Southeast is third to the Northeast and West in consumption of olive oil. If olive oil can become a viable tool in traditional southern cooking, then there are no limits.
Often when a dessert recipe ask for vegetable, corn or canola oil, I prefer using olive oil. How is baking with olive oil better than other types oils?
Flavor! Olive oil always brings more flavor to the party, richer texture and greater health benefits. Baking and desserts is another area where olive oil is moving beyond the traditional boundaries of the Mediterranean cuisine. Chefs are exploring the use of olive oil more and more with their dessert menus. As we are all becoming more health conscious, olive oil is growing as a staple ingredient in our sugary treats. It should be noted that it is best to use a fruity or late harvest oil with your desserts, rather than a robust early harvest oil that could overwhelm other flavors. Both the First Fresh California and 3 Village Blends are excellent for desserts. In fact, the flavor profile of both oils was designed with desserts in mind.
Here are two excellent books about baking with olive oil: Olive Oil Baking: Healthy Recipes That Increase Good Cholesterol and Reduce Saturated Fats by Lisa Sheldon, and Olive Oil Desserts: Delicious and Healthy Heart Smart Baking, by Mikki Sannar. Here’s a useful conversion chart for butter to olive oil from OliveOilSource.com.
Love baking with olive oil? Share your favorite olive oil dessert in the comment section below.