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.
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?