Launching a food brand, especially an olive oil company, is not for the faint of heart as the category is crowded with a never-ending assortment of cooking oil options for consumers, acknowledged Benin, who said he was humbled quickly when first starting the business.
Falling in love with the quality and abundance of olive oil after living in Spain with his wife and her family, Benin did a tasting of olive oil he brought back from Spain with Gramercy Tavern executive chef Michael Anthony.
"Mike really put me in my place and said, ‘You know what America doesn’t need? Another bougie luxury olive oil purveyor from a small estate and no one can afford it, and it doesn’t scale. I have ten of you in this zip code, if I want to get a good olive oil smuggled over in a suitcase from Italy... I really think what we need is this product, but for everyone. And that completely shifted my way of thinking'," recounted Benin.
"We set out to build an olive oil company that is totally different. It’s visually different, functionally different, and aesthetically different, and we made it in a way that it’s for everyone," Benin said.
"This is an olive oil for everyone."
Using only Picual olives - a varietal not widely used in the US olive oil market, according to Benin - from a supplier in the Andalusia region of Spain, Benin and COO and co-founder Allen Dushi set out to create an affordable, high-quality extra-virgin olive oil.
"We don’t harp a lot on the varietal in our brand messaging. But, we still stack up our oil against gold medal olive oil in the world, but we’re really billed as a non-heritage, non-luxury company," said Benin.
Asked how the brand manages to keep its prices competitive, Benin said, "Pricing honestly was pretty easy. We bought a ton of olive oil. We have it in storage, and we dispatch it as we need."
Sizzle, Drizzle... and later, Frizzle
Its first two products, Sizzle and Drizzle, are priced at $20 for a 16.9-fluid-ounce bottle and $15 for a 25.3-fluid-ounce bottle, respectively. The two products are meant to serve different functions in the kitchen, noted Benin.
"Sizzle is your everyday cooking oil for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Drizzle is an earlier harvest olive oil that’s higher in polyphenols and antioxidants (meant to be a finishing oil), we definitely recommend not to cook (at high temperatures) with it," Benin explained.
The company plans to launch a third product, 'Frizzle', which will be the company's most affordable cooking oil option designed to compete directly with canola and vegetable oil.
'The squeeze bottle was a crazy moment'
Determined not to be yet another olive oil brand on the shelf, Benin and Dushi knew their packaging had to not only stand out but be completely unprecedented for the category. So the two settled on an opaque (to protect the oil from light) squeeze bottle which is meant to make cooking a breeze for any level chef.
"The squeeze bottle was a crazy moment," said Benin.
"The bottle is the first squeeze bottle brought to market in our category. We own the molds. We’re also going to be the first induction seal which we have a patent pending for. It’s a big risk, but I think this is pretty much the tool of choice for every kitchen in North America. We think it’s a really fun empowerment for a home chef in the kitchen."
The branding is also a key differentiator for the brand. Graza bottles feature playful illustrations on each of its labels.
"It evokes a sense of looseness. We focus on the cook and the madness that goes on in the kitchen," said Benin.
Retail plans: 'From day one, we built this business for physical retail'
Graza launched online for its debut, but Benin said it won't be long until it ramps up its brick-and-mortar retail distribution plans
"Everything about this business was built for physical retail because that’s where people buy olive oil," said Benin.
The brand is currently on the shelves at Yowie, a hip Philadelphia-based design store and at James Beard-nominated restaurant Suerte in Austin, Texas.
Graza is deep in the process of growing its retail footprint with support from natural foods distributor KeHe and was accepted into the KeHe Elevate Program to further maximize its distribution growth and brand awareness.
"There's a lot of love for the perimeter of the store, but so little innovation in between the aisles. From day one, we built this business for physical retail," said Benin.