How Fairway Market Sells So Much Olive Oil

Editor’s Note: We are pleased to welcome Steven Jenkins as our newest contributing writer. Known as a master merchant behind the wildly successful Fairway Markets in New York, Steven will be sharing his thoughts about olive oil and retailing.

I am a food retailer here in the New York area. We are Fairway Market, nine big stores with more being built as I write. Our most recent stores are in Stamford, Connecticut, the Upper Eastside of Manhattan and Douglaston Queens. We offer everything a leading food market should offer, and we do it very well. I have been employed by Fairway since the early 1980s.

Fairway is known for its fruits and vegetables, massive cheese departments, olives, olive oil and vinegar, premises-smoked salmon, premises-roasted coffee beans, full-service seafood and butcher counters, and an enormous selection of certified organic foodstuffs.

I created for my stores 14 regionally disparate, un-filtered Fairway-labeled olive oils from groves and millers with which I am intimate. I import these oils in 200-kilo barrels, and we pump each barrel’s contents into our own bottles upon which we apply our own oil-proof labels. Each of these barrel oils is named for its specific region and olive variety. This is in addition to our own Italy-bottled and -labeled ‘house’ olive oil (choose from filtered, un-filtered and certified organic).

Our ‘house’ oil is a gentle, yet full-flavored blend of olive oils sourced from Italy, Spain and Greece. And then I import exclusively over 40 other olive oils from old, venerable, small-production, family-owned mills whose groves are timeless and whose bottles and labels are as artful and attractive as can be.

Point (attempted) being we sell a lot of olive oil here at our wonderful Fairway Markets.

But it’s not the mind-numbing scope and variety that sells these olive oils. Nor is it the nearly overwhelming barrage of informational signage and colorful posters that accompany this remarkable array assembled within the dedicated space given to oils and vinegars. Both of these undeniably positive elements contribute to our success. But neither is as important as the manner in which we merchandise this important category.

At each of our stores we have a custom-designed, built and installed four-sided hutch — offering many feet of shelving above and below — separated by a one-foot wide horizontal space 30 inches from the floor for tasting. At intervals all the way around, from as many as 36, to as few as a dozen, we have hollowed out depressions designed to hold a container in which we pour olive oil.

Fixture of the New York food scene: Fairway's custom hutch offers the retailer's famous assortment of olive oils with a warning to customers not to "double dip."  Fixture of the New York food scene: Fairway’s custom hutch offers the retailer’s famous assortment of olive oils with a warning to customers not to “double dip.”

Each sample container has its bottle standing behind it so that the customer can see which oil they are tasting, as well as take the opportunity to read the information- filled label. I wrote every one of these prolix labels, in my quixotic quest to provide all the useful information there is to glean from every single one of these extraordinary olive oils.

Lucite cubes at each end of these tasting tables are constantly being refilled with cut medallions of our ‘house’ baguette that is baked and turned out hot from the oven all day, every day. Our customers know to use these baguette slices to dip into and taste as many olive oils as they desire.

Care to see the olive oils we’re selling now?

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This article was last updated January 3, 2015 - 5:14 PM (GMT-5)

  • Scott H.

    I’d have to say the enormous olive oil display worked for me (at the Stamford location). But as much as the presentation, it was the prices that got me. I know a thing or two about evoo and I know what good olive oil tastes like — so when you see really good olive oil at Fairway selling for $10 / liter, it’s hard to say no.

  • KathyHarris

    That’s an amazing list of olive oils. I wonder if any other retailer in the world has such a variety.

  • Nancyharmonjenkins

    Steve, your list is very interesting, especially the prevalence of French oils–more, I dare to say, than most retailers of fine oils. This must reflect customer preference (otherwise, why would you do it?) but I’m wondering: Do you find that as the taste for and knowledge of olive oil has matured in the U.S. in recent years, there’s more of a trend toward less sweet oils (Taggiasca and French oils generally) and more toward the aggressive flavors of, e.g., Pugliese oil?
    Nancy Harmon Jenkins (no relation, always a friend)

    • Cheesejenkins

      nancy, it troubles me that we never talk anymore.
      customer preference has never had a whit of influence on me throughout my career, i think you would be the first to know that.  i import the oils i like.  as i have with my cheeses and all that other stuff.  that being said, YES:  people like to be slapped by their olive oil, grabbed by the throat.  hence the big oils front-and-center.  but americans have a long way to go in order to render qualified judgment over the vast realm of olive oil.

  • Silvia Lazzari

    How come there are no Greek bottled (“non-barreled”) oils in the range?
    Would you consider a co-operation? (award winning 100% koroneiki, 30 years of experience in organic, high quality, sustainability… must try!)

  • EVOOlover

    An interesting concept Steve, and I’m glad to hear you sell lots of olive oil but why, oh why, do you use clear bottles?  You should know that they are an absolute no-no for keeping olive oil in good condition.
    I was also surprised not to see any Californian oils in your range.  Are they too expensive?   Think of all those food miles in the imported oils and offer some local brands.

    • steven

      THEY ARE FAR TOO EXPENSIVE, and i am underwhelmed with the dozen or so i have tasted, as i am by so many greek (and turkish) oils that are sent to me.  except for mine, from Corning.  as for my clear bottles, A., we sell the barrel oils so fast that light doesn’t have time to ruin my oils, and B., this is the cheapest bottle made.  expensive bottles and caps would jack up my retail price.  my customers know to keep their fairway barrel oils in dark cabinets.

      • Paulh

        Have you tried a Greek olive oil from Northern Greece’s Mt. Athos, from hontroelia olives? Probably not. Or a really nice Koroneiko with peroxides below 5 and acidity below .2% and k232 below 1.4…I’d venture to guess no, cause if you did you wouldn’t write off an entire country that specializes in just extra virgin, at excellent prices…

      • Silvia

        Then, you’ve never tasted “real” Greek oil. :-)
        As regards prices, all depends on quality. If you have non-intensive cultivations on rocky slopes, hand picking, immediate cold pressing, then you have quality instead of quantity, and this affects the prices.

  • Leonnarbey

    Great that you have this range of product, but if you can buy really good EVOO for US$10 per litre I fear what the poor grower is getting for their efforts. As an olive oil producer/farmer I know I cannot produce it for this price and make a living.

  • Peter

    No Australian oil?  Happy to supply.

  • Hartmut Bauder

    No real collection of olive oils from around the world would be complete without our high altitude oil from the Himalayas, certified extra virgine, and possibly one of the best olive oils of the world.

  • Brokenstrings

    Very impressive, but why no Portuguese, Cretan or Corsican?

  • zoran

    No Dalmatian (Croatia) oil? I’ts a pitty.

  • ruth harris

    You are (and deserve to be) famous for all the items you list, but I want to add a cheer for your tea department. Wide selection, high quality & fair prices. Let’s not overlook often- ignored poor little tea—all the flavor delights & nuance of wine without the pretension, snobbery &  high prices.

  • Kuzman100

    In Spain I bought a great bottle of olive oil for a few dollars from the supermarket – very strong, bitter and peppery.  I have not found anything similar. Any suggestions for a strong oil full of phenols?

  • Lara

    It was such a pleasure to interview Steve for Olive Oil Times many months ago — he is a true encyclopedia of foodie knowledge. So thrilled to see that he is now a contributor! 

  • Frankie Gobbee

    Steve! Very nice your article. I hope in a short future you try one of our Argentina super premium EVOO. Best Frankie

  • charlie azzopardi

    Would anyone be interested in importing extra virgin organic olive oil and cured olives from the Hyblena mountains region in Sicily (Italy)? EV olive oil never tasted so good believe me. Fresh (pressed a week ago) or last year’s. Well priced. Contact me if you want at