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When It Comes to Oils and Vinegars, Customers Always Seeking the Next Big Thing

By Lucas Witman

There was a time when shopping for cooking oil meant choosing between a few plastic bottles of vegetable, canola, peanut and olive oils, likely selecting the one with the most attractive price tag. Now, the average grocery store stocks dozens of different types of oils, and many consumers stock their pantries with a variety of them, each carefully selected to fulfill a different task in the kitchen. There is vegetable oil for frying, extra virgin olive oil for vinaigrettes, and sesame oil for finishing off a perfect stir-fry. These products may be accompanied by walnut, grape seed, cottonseed and avocado oil, or any number of additional products that are becoming increasingly popular among home cooks.

The U.S. vinegars marketplace has become similarly diverse in recent years. Gone is the simple choice consumers once had between white wine, red wine, cider and balsamic. Today, one may use French champagne vinegar in one dish, later switching to South Korean persimmon vinegar for another. Even within the world of balsamic vinegar, the number of different products available is staggering, including everything from a rich, syrupy 12-year-old balsamico di Modena from Italy to flavorful infusions with orange blossom, maple and even chocolate.

For oils and vinegars companies today, capturing the attention of the modern consumer means always looking for the next big thing. It is vital for successful companies to stay on top of current trends and work to offer consumers what they crave. One example of a company that is doing this is Kelapo, which is at the forefront of the growing coconut oil trend.

Coconut oil, extracted from mature coconut meat, has recently risen in popularity among U.S. consumers as a versatile cooking ingredient. Coconut oil can be used for a number of different purposes, from frying chicken to popping popcorn. It also works great for baked goods.

There are a growing number of companies currently bringing coconut oils and spreads to the American marketplace, but Kelapo founder Erin Meagher argues that her company’s products stand out above the rest.

“Everyone thinks, because they hear everything about coconut oil now, it’s all made the same, and it’s absolutely not the same,” Meagher said. “Beside being unrefined, organic and fair trade, ours is just a higher quality. You’re going to get it when you open up the jar and smell how light and flavorful it is. And when you cook with it, it’s going to have a great flavor and not leave any aftertaste.”

However, it is not just the quality of Kelapo coconut oil products that sets the company apart from its competition, but also the versatility of these offerings. “After the quality, it’s the innovation that we have,” Meagher said. “Just because you’re switching to coconut oil…you still want convenience. That’s why we have not just the jars. We have a cooking spray. We have the premeasured sticks, the pouches. If…I’m going fry my eggs with a cooking spray, why not coconut oil?”

With so many vinegar options available today, it is equally important for companies within this industry to do what they can to set themselves apart from the pack. This is what O Olive Oil has done, distinguishing itself for the quality of the vinegars it offers and their diversity. O Olive Oil offers no less than 19 different white wine, red wine, rice wine and balsamic vinegars, including everything from the rich and robust to the delicate and drinkable.

What truly differentiates O Olive Oil’s vinegars from those of the company’s competitors is the process through which they are created: barrel aging. “Most of the vinegars that you see on the market are aged mechanically,” said Mario Aranda, Vice President of O Olive Oil. “We’re in the middle of wine country, so we have access to all of the beautiful grapes and wines. Vinegar, by definition, is sour wine. Most of the vinegars out there do not use wine at all. They use sugar water, fruit water. But we use the actual wine, and then barrel age the vinegar.”

The makers of O Olive Oil also try to draw customers to the truly unique vinegars offered by the company by focusing on creating beautiful packaging. The company’s vinegars are so attractive that they have become quite popular as hostess gifts, even being featured on Oprah on an episode in which Oprah Winfrey herself presented some of her favorite holiday gifts. “We work very hard and say that we taste as good as we look,” Aranda said. “We won a number of design awards at [the Summer Fancy Food Show] and in design shows themselves. It ought to look and taste yummy as well.”