Shawn's Blog | The Olive Oil Source Wholesale Store

Shawn's Blog

Crucial Assistance

I am involved with The Olive Oil Source as the owner, I farm 4,300 trees and I mill that fruit in our own mill. In addition, we mill olives commercially for a lot of small producers totaling somewhere around 20,000 – 40,000 trees worth of fruit depending on the year. As written earlier, much of my time is taken up with consulting work. The only way all that could possibly get done is with really good employees (and my wife's help). I thought I’d write a bit about some of the great people who work here.

 

At The Olive Oil Source, our relatively new general manager, Brian Gloria, has been doing a fabulous job. His background is on customer service in the food industry with experience in retail, specifically in tasting bar management, so he is perfectly familiar with what a lot of our clients do and understands customer service like few others. His experience in this capacity has given him knowledge in tasting room designs & concepts as well as customer purchasing decisions and tendencies. He believes customer education is fundamental to success as the tasting rooms that make it are usually the ones that have a heuristic approach to learning about the olive oil industry and work to bring people and food together.

Having also worked as operations manager for a catering department handling school lunch programs, he also has a strong background in food preparation processes, quality control, health standards, etc. The daily preparation and delivery of 1,500 – 2,000 lunches also honed his process management skills. He led marketing efforts to maintain and acquire new schools and helped in opening two new concept locations for that business.

 

All of this is perfect training for running The Olive Oil Source. Couple this extensive experience with his enjoyment of connecting with people that share similar interests and he becomes someone all our customers should get in touch with. Having a hand in the operation of olive oil tasting rooms has given him the ability to connect, interact, and share in the customer experience of olive oil education. His knowledge is invaluable as he has actually tasted, used, and enjoyed the products we sell. Since coming on board to The Olive Oil Source, an equal focus of his has been learning about production and processes used in the field for growing, harvesting, processing, and testing, thereby rounding out his knowledge of the products we offer. In addition, he is a joy to work and interact with!


May 23, 2018

Orchard Check

Young blossoms

 

It is an interesting time in the orchard right now as we monitor the trees for what we can expect for a crop.  The rumor is that the crop may be quite light statewide which is not good news given the rapidly growing popularity of Californian olive oil and the price hikes and shortages we’ve been seeing the last few years.  Usually by this time of year in our orchard, we have had bloom and sometimes even fruit set, although that is pretty rare this early.

This year, the trees seem confused.  Many have already bloomed and are starting to set fruit while for others the blossoms are just beginning to form as you can see in these two photos, above and below.  

While there are always noticeable inconsistencies in an olive orchard depending on the particular location in the orchard and the variety of the tree, it is very unusual for the spread between the trees’ annual development to be this large.  These trees are only about 100 yards apart.

In our case, the probable reason for this disparity is that we had spectacular weather from the end of January to the beginning of March.  Clear sunny days were the norm for week after week with temperatures edging into the low 80s some days, which is pretty unusual for that long a period.  We normally might get a week or two of that in January or February but it just went on and on this year.  Then we had a cold wet March and cold windy April including snow down to 2,500’ and I think it caused chaos in the orchard.

Based on what we are seeing right now, we will probably end up having to do two harvests which is a monumental inconvenience for everyone from the owners to the pickers to the millers.  Stick around and we’ll see what happens.

 

Blooms and fruit set


May 21, 2018

The Olive Oil Commission of California (OOCC)

A meeting of the Olive Oil Commission of California (OOCC) was held on May 3 in Woodland. There are several committees within the commission including the Grades and Standards Committee and I attended as a member of that panel. This is not a particularly pleasant undertaking as, to attend, I have a 6 hour trip each way but it is worth it to be part of the valuable work the commission is doing. I should probably give a little background into the commission as surprisingly few people in the industry are aware of it and what role it plays. Unlike the California Olive Oil Council (COOC), the Olive Oil Commission falls under the purview of the California Department of Food and Agriculture and membership is mandatory by law for producers of 5,000 gallons or more annually. There is no conflict of interest in their testing processes either in that membership isn’t optional and the OOCC does not engage in product promotion or marketing.

What makes the OOCC and their work so unique is the manner in which testing and compliance are carried out. The OOCC standard provides stringent product specifications for California olive oils with rigorous sampling methodology and testing required from third-party testing labs. Furthermore, the OOCC is a mandatory government program. Through the OOCC, the California Department of Food and Agriculture oversees the verification of California olive oil quality.

But back to the 5/3 meeting, while there was a lot of discussion about the scientific aspects of grades and labeling, what really struck me was a discussion about this year’s mandatory sampling and testing results. Without going into a detailed breakdown of the numbers of samples taken, test results, etc., the bottom line is that, if you buy Californian olive oil, you can count on the quality of oil being what is written on the label, and as those of us in the industry know, this is definitely not the case around the world.

Perhaps more surprising to me is that as of the date of the meeting, 25% of the producers required to participate in the program had not paid their dues. The expense is $.15/gal., hardly an onerous fee and yet the results the commission is getting are fabulous for these producers. We have seen demand for Californian extra virgin olive oil outstrip supply several years in a row now and prices have gone up about 10% per year for the last three years. To shirk one’s responsibility to help fund these phenomenal results is unconscionable. One last comment on this, the fact that there is such unbiased comprehensive testing and policing of quality for Californian olive oils is why we, at The Olive Oil Source, try to offer them as much as possible. No one else in the world is doing this.

I’d like to thank Boundary Bend and Cobram Estates for hosting these meetings and furthering the great work being done by the commission.


May 14, 2018

Our Customers

One task I have that I wish I had more time for is getting out and talking to our customers. I enjoy seeing their olive oil stores, hearing what is and what is not working for them, and most of all, what new products they’d like to see. When The Olive Oil Source started, it was all about selling hard-to-find equipment for producing olive oil to the fledgling olive oil industry in California. Starting in about 2009, however, we began to get a lot of inquiries from tasting bars, gourmet shops, and private labelers to start offering a broader array of single varietal, organic, and flavored olive oils, and wine and balsamic vinegars. It turned out that the existing suppliers of these products to tasting bars and other stores were not satisfying demand and/or their service was lacking in some way.

It was quite easy for us to ramp up our olive oil offerings but on the vinegar and balsamic vinegar front, we had to learn about the industry, producers both foreign and domestic, and develop a supply chain of products we could be proud of offering. This included, among other things, going to Italy, meeting producers and trying their products. We did all that and now have a broad array of regular and balsamic vinegars available. This would have never occurred without direct contact with customers who asked us to pick up this balsamic vinegar or that olive oil. Of note is that many of these interactions were not with our existing customer base but disgruntled customers of other suppliers.

As a result of listening to these requests, the food sales side of our business has grown to the point that it now dwarfs any other sector of the company. Some of the more recent requests have been for Harissa and Herbes de Provence flavored olive oils and Date Balsamic Vinegar. Although these client requests were made some months ago, it takes us a while to work out the exact flavoring process to get the best results. I want to thank all the customers who have requested a specific product and encourage others to do so whenever they find something they’d like to see us carry. Here is a photo of a tasting bar that does extremely well with our single varietal oil offerings.


May 10, 2018

Helping Small Olive Oil Producers

A big part of our business in the past has been providing equipment to small olive oil producers, essentially boutique operations. Small producers still make up the bulk of our equipment sales augmented with items for retail sales operations. A large part of my time these days is spent working in a consulting capacity for these smaller operations. This work involves everything from checking on olive orchards to helping with equipment decisions or facility layouts for olive oil producers as well as giving advice on setting up new retail operations. Last week I was helping a small producer with their bottling operations.

Bottling olive oil in many ways is quite a simple undertaking, however, it has gotten a lot more complicated in the last couple of years with the advent of the F.D.A.’s FSMS (Food Security Monitoring System) for which compliance requirements began to kick in September of 2016. While many of the operations we deal with are exempt from the FSMS laws as they are farms, there is a lot to be gained in terms of good management practices from those requirements. For better or worse, now more than ever, producers need to evaluate whether it is worth doing their own bottling. The cost to set up even a small olive oil bottling line coupled with the time spent on regulatory compliance often makes it more logical just to send their product to a co-packer.

That being said, if you want to be able to have that “Estate Bottled” verbiage on your label, you have to pay the price for the equipment, labor, and compliance. In the case of the people I was working with last week, the cost of one of our Enolmatic fillers, which is more than capable of handling their bottling requirements, is just a very small fraction of the costs associated with them doing their bottling. In addition to the costs already mentioned above, they need to have a room with washable surfaces and that means investing in new flooring, wall surfaces and ceiling in the room they want to use. Additionally, they will need new lighting and a sink added. Given their production, I would encourage them to send their olive oil bottling out to a co-packer like The Olive Oil Source. Realistically they can probably bottle for 10 years with a co-packer for less than it will cost them to do it themselves.


May 8, 2018

Farming Realities

There is a lot of literature out there on the right way to do things in this industry whether it is planting, pruning, harvesting, milling, storage, or any of a number of other aspects of the business. In a perfect world they sound great and are what we strive for, but we see and hear a lot from people taking those points a little too far. Sometimes the physical or economic realities of the situation simply don’t allow you to do something the way it is described in a book. Pruning this year is a perfect example of that.

Ideally we’d like to prune, weather permitting, as soon as we finish harvesting. Often times this would drag out a bit as we avoid having open cuts on the trees close to rainfall, but that timing would be perfect. The problem is that we do not only mill olives from our own orchard. We also mill fruit we purchase and fruit for clients. Manpower tends to be in short supply at that time of year. This year, we finished milling late due to a very good crop, and once we had the time to really go after pruning, a month of wet weather moved in.

The result is we are still pruning in early April, which is not really ideal but there was no other option under the circumstances. Here Jose, our farm manager, works his way down a row of 10 year old Frantoio and Leccino trees.


April 5, 2018

Regulation

When I got into this business I had visions of sunset strolls through the orchard on warm summer evenings and enjoying a glass of wine or dining al fresco with a beautiful view over the orchard. It never occurred to me that as an added bonus I’d become a connoisseur of regulatory inspections.

I referenced regulation in an earlier post and some of the numerous regulatory agencies and paperwork we have to deal with. Apparently that was a harbinger of things to come as 3 days later, we got a surprise inspection from the F.D.A., which is a somewhat infrequent inspection. This one was particularly interesting, in so far as an inspection can be interesting, because it was done by an F.D.A. inspector as opposed to a state health inspector subcontracted to the F.D.A. as we have seen in the past. Most of the regulatory activity we go through is annual. So, in keeping with the theme of this blog, here is what I spent some of that day doing.

The inspection lasted about 3 hours. I of course had to drop everything I was doing to deal with the inspection, yet another loss of time. Similarly, all activity in the area of the inspection had to be stopped so that a coherent conversation could be had which meant reassigning everyone working in the area to other tasks, another time sink. That being said, regulation is part of our job and although it is an inconvenience, it is just part of the business. My feeling is, if you’re in the food industry and you’re not spending a large amount of your time dealing with regulation, you’re probably not a very legitimate company.

 

As a consumer, I love the regulation and as a businessperson it does have an upside. We approach regulation with the mentality that the inspections are good for us. The inspections are effectively free consulting since if the inspectors find things we can do better, that’s great. They are looking at us from an industry wide perspective and can give us insight we would not otherwise have access to. We’ve never had any issues with regulatory agencies, but we sure spend a lot of time (and money) doing inspections, filling out paperwork, and doing in house work to make sure we comply with each agency’s requirements.


April 3, 2018

The Roots of The Olive Oil Source and French varietals

John and Lisa Deane started The Olive Oil Source as a primarily informational site about olive oil and the olive oil industry. Today, many producers of olive oil in the U.S., my wife and I included, learned much of what they know about the industry by reading the immense amount of information the Deans posted. The site still has much of the information they posted, a lot of it updated and reorganized, and we still spend a substantial amount of time every day answering questions sent to us. This one just came in and I thought it was interesting. I was assigned to answering it.

We were asked why is it so hard to find oil from French varietals grown in the U.S.? My first reaction was that olive farming here was dominated by the canning industry for decades. That industry leaned towards varieties like Mission, Ascolano, Sevillano, and Manzanillo because they are large fruit and therefore ideal for table olives. When the oil industry started to pick up again in the 90's, people had to import tree stock and start new orchards or use the canning varietal fruit. Initially, the imported trees were predominantly the Italian varietals Frantoio, Leccino, Pendolino, and Maurino due to Americans’ association of olive oil with Italy and to the high oil yield of these varieties. Then with the advent of SHD production, Arbequina, Arbosano, and Koroneiki became the top varietals as those are the only ones cloned to grow in hedge rows. People did bring in other varietals but it was typically small time importation and propagation so they just didn't get established as quickly or as widely.

I wanted to check the veracity of this so I contacted Bruce Golino at Santa Cruz Olive Tree Nursery as his operation is one of the oldest growers of orchard stock for oil production. Bruce said that initially they did bring in some French varietals but they just did not generate the interest that the Italian varietals did. Currently there is reasonable production of French varietal oil in the Joshua Tree area (in fact we milled their fruit this year) and in the Colusa area.

If you’re not familiar with French varietals, probably the one that is most common here is Picholine. The one you see the most in the south of France is called Cailletier there and Taggiasca once you cross the border into Italy. This is a popular variety because the yield can be sky high and the oil is really mild. Other ones you might see a bit of in California are Aglandau, Luques, and Tanche. I have never seen any domestically-grown Salonenque, a variety I referred to in a previous post.

Photo: Old Cailletier trees in our olive orchard in France a few years ago

 


March 30, 2018

Flexibility

One of the basic principals of The Olive Oil Source is flexibility. We feel that the best service we can offer to our customers is to provide them with what they need and not require nor limit them to purchase everything from us. If they have a specific bottle they want to use that we don’t carry or want to label bottles themselves, fine. If for example, they have a direct tie to an E.V.O.O. (or anything else) producer in another country and want to augment those products with ones we have, that’s fine. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to give their operation a bit of personal flair and in our opinion, they are a lot more likely to succeed if they do.

Something we spend a lot of time doing is bottling and this is a perfect example of our flexibility. As we mill fruit for a lot of central coast wineries, they often have us bottle and label the olive oil too. Sometimes they use our glass, sometimes not. Currently we are bottling about 9,000 bottles for Stolpman Vineyards. We made their oil with fruit they grow and harvest, we’re bottling it in bottles they supplied but with closures and shrink wraps from The Olive Oil Source, and we’re doing the labeling with labels they sent to us. This morning I was checking in on the bottling progress of their order.

While bottling is essentially a very simple process, being appropriately licensed to is not. As we handle organic and non-organic products, just some of the regulation we have to adhere to is getting Processed Food Registrations and Organic Processed Food Registrations from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, have regular inspections from the state health department, surprise inspections from federal health inspectors, inspections from our organic certifier, annual certification from weights and measures, testing from the water quality control board, a documented food safety management system and our larger customers require a third party audit of our FSMS. That’s not all, but you get the point.


March 26, 2018

What makes The Olive Oil Source different?

One of the questions we get asked most often from potential new customers is what makes The Olive Oil Source different from our competitors. For me, what makes us different is what we are not. Virtually all of our competitors are people who have gotten into this business as merchants and bring a sales and marketing background to their businesses. For better or worse, we don’t come from that background nor do we bring that mentality to the business.

A perfect example of this is some of the E.V.O.O.’s we’re offering this year. Our Ascolano and Mission are coming from an orchard managed by our mill manager and I have worked with the owner since 2010 to improve their growing activities. Our Manzanillo comes from another orchard that we first got involved with in 2005, helping them solve some difficult pest control issues they were experiencing. Then there are our gourmet flavored oils that are currently being made with fruit from an orchard in the Santa Ynez Valley. I have been working with the owner of that orchard since 2012 in order to get good quantity and quality production from it.

All this to say our business isn’t just a store. We haven’t gone through a catalog, picked out products we think we can resale with a generous margin and otherwise spend our time focusing on our supply chain. We are much more involved with the products we sell and going forward, now that I’ve given a little background about us, I hope to show you this in this blog. 

Photo: Barrel tasting Ascolano E.V.O.O. 3/18


March 23, 2018