A Taste to Whet The Appetite

by Nate Hunter

In-store samples keep culinary purveyor Oil & Vinegar growing in the U.S. market.

Oil & Vinegar prefers wide store fronts so pedestrians can easily view the interior and products.Oil & Vinegar was founded in 1999 in The Netherlands. The first U.S. store opened in 2004 in Dallas, and since then, the company has refined its palate and concentrated on offering a mix of imported olive oils, vinegars, pestos, marinades and sauces.

The retailer even has a wide array of handcrafted ceramics and culinary accessories to enhance the home-dining experience. But the key to finding the perfect gourmet food accompaniment is through taste.

Oil & Vinegar strives to create a retail experience that revolves around the tasting of gourmet foods. The company has developed a retail model that has not been as drastically affected by online shopping since customers are encouraged to taste every product in the store.

At Oil & Vinegar, the staff refers to customers as “guests.” The priority for each location is to engage its guests through experience, service and adventure. Guests peruse the “amphora wall” where an international selection of more than 30 oils and vinegars are suspended in glass containers in order to make their choices. Customers can select a new bottle or even bring in a previously purchased Oil & Vinegar bottle for a refill of their favorite food item.

“The whole center of the store revolves around the idea that we’re allowing customers to taste the product,” says Matt Stermer, president and CEO of Oil & Vinegar USA. “Our marketing focus is passionate about taste — that’s the original profile.”

Stermer originally became involved with the concept opening his own store in November 2006 in Bellevue, Wash. Following an ownership change in the company, he was selected as the head of the U.S. operations and began franchising in 2008.

“The franchise model is based on the lifestyle of people who are passionate about food and want to share that passion in a retail environment,” Stermer says.

Today, Oil & Vinegar has more than 70 stores worldwide. The company’s portfolio includes 10 countries spanning three continents. The retailer originally expanded the concept internationally to the United Kingdom, Germany and Belgium in 2002. There are currently 13 stores in the U.S. ranging from locations in Anchorage, Alaska; Dallas and The Woodlands, Texas; New Orleans; and Missoula, Mont.

Oil & Vinegar has plans to open an additional six to eight units this year. Two new stores will open soon in Richmond and Northern Virginia.

Stermer says that the target for the company is to expand by eight to 10 stores per year, but a lot of Oil & Vinegar’s growth depends on space and availability. The retailer targets a very finite demographic, which must be present in order to ensure the location’s success.

“The main thing from a growth perspective is that the market needs to have a very food-savvy consumer that appreciates gourmet foods,” says Stermer.

All of the company’s domestic units are located within upscale properties, including high-end lifestyle centers and enclosed malls. Stermer says the company likes to open in centers that include predominately restaurant tenants or include a food market because they serve as good complements to the same demographic targeted by Oil & Vinegar.

The average unit size is approximately 1,000 square feet. Stores are located within a 10-mile trade area of at least 200,000 people. Since the visual appeal of the store is crucial, including large displays of all of the retailer’s gourmet items via the amphora wall, Oil & Vinegar targets locations with a minimum of 20 feet of store frontage. This allows guests to peruse the wall openly while making their gourmet food decisions.OilVinegar2The Amphora Wall is usually placed at the center of the store and encourages an interactive shopping experience.

The West Coast is the main target for the chain, gradually expanding from its Washington roots. The primary focus on the West Coast is California since the state boasts a population of food-focused consumers. Other states that remain high on the company’s radar include Florida to join the company’s sole location in West Palm Beach. Oil & Vinegar recently sold a license for Arizona and is working with a partner to open three to four more stores in the state during the next five years. The company already has one location open in Scottsdale.

The chain has also recently opened a location in Canada in The Core Shopping Centre in Calgary, Alberta, on March 20.

Oil & Vinegar is also a hot destination for culinary gifts. Each item simultaneously is able to both accent the palate and the table.

Because the chain is so attractive for consumers looking for gift ideas, Stermer says the company’s focus on gourmet gifts has been able to sustain it through the economic downturn.
“People have opted to actually buy items from us, versus other less tactile items.”

All purchases at each location can even be gift-wrapped. The ability to taste and formulate different combinations allows each guest to make a personalized gift. Popular gifts can range from an international cookbook to the latest kitchen accessories such as salt and pepper grinders.

If customers wanted an even more personalized gift, they can access the company’s website to design a custom label for the bottle of their choice.

The company’s website even offers the ability to shop online and have gifts shipped. The website includes featured recipes such as cottage cheese rolls for dessert or fruschetta tomatoes as a shared party appetizer.
While the company presents its items in a Mediterranean-influenced surrounding, each customer is likely to find a fit for a variety of preferences.

— Brittany Biddy

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