By David Morrill,
Walk down the snack aisle of a local grocery store and you’ll find the usual canisters of peanuts, bags of chips and jars of salsa. If Lindsay Olives has its way, you’ll see their cans of olives as well.
Owned by Bell-Carter Foods Inc. of Lafayette, Lindsay Olives is in the process of trying to change its image.
The top U.S. producer of olives wants to maintain its classic feel, yet gear up to target a new generation of olive eaters.
“We understand there’s a heavy tradition with Lindsay Olives, but we also understand there’s a whole new market we can tap into,” said Ken Wienholz, chief executive of Bell-Carter.
Wienholz arrived three years ago and is the first nonfamily CEO. He believes there’s a way to make both long-standing and new customers happy.
“We want to give our brand a look that will not only connect with the older generation that has fond memories with us, but also excite a new generation of customers into looking at olives as a great snack food,” he said.
The company isn’t taking the move lightly. About $4.5 million is going to be spent on the makeover.
The new labels are bright red. At grocery stores such as FoodMaxx, large displays of the cans are set up to draw in new customers.
“As kids, a lot of us remember putting the olives on our fingers and eating them off one by one,” said Robin Robinson, vice president of marketing the company. “We want Lindsay Olives relevant to today’s shoppers.”
Domestically, there are two primary players in the table olive business. Lindsay Olives and Musco Family Olive Co. in Tracy. Bell-Carter comprises roughly 65 percent of the U.S. industry for black olives, with Musco taking up the majority of the remainder, according to Adin Hester, president of Olive Growers Association.
Bell-Carter had revenues of $200 million in 2008, according to Gale Group, which researches private and public companies. More than 90 percent of that comes from the olives.
Lafayette is where the executives and the day-to-day operations are, but the olives themselves are processed in Corning. About 10 million cases, or 60,000 tons, a year are produced there.
One of the newest product lines are olive snack packs, to encourage customers to eat them straight out of the can with pull tops.
“I think they’re plans to expand the product space and move into snack packs is good, because who carries a can opener with them,” Hester said.
As a whole, the olive industry is doing strong.
Because olive trees are self-pollinating, if the weather is not right, entire crops can be lost. In 2006, a late spring storm caused a “total crop failure.”
“This year we’re looking very good, and we have a strong bloom,” Hester said.
The biggest competition for olives and its black olive brands doesn’t come from mother nature, but from imports. Those bought in stores are still let by domestic olives, but those used by restaurants are often imports.
“Often times I’ll go into a restaurant and ask if the olives are from here, and they say, ‘Of course’ ” Hester said. “I then say prove it, and when you read the label you see it came from somewhere else.”
Hester says he wishes that Bell-Carter and Musco would be a bit less confrontational and do a little more marketing together to try and make people aware of the quality we have here.
For now, Bell-Carter feels the future will be a time where Lindsay Olives makes its splash in the market.
“Five years from now, we hope to have olives reach customers that never considered them before,” Wienholz said. “There’s a lot of opportunity out there that we hope we can reach.”
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