In 1997, Nalini and Colin Baruch purchased an olive grove as a retirement project. Over the next twenty years this project grew into LOT EIGHT, one of New Zealand’s premium olive oil brands. Nalini spoke to the team about all things olive and oil.
What is your company background, how did you start the business?
“We bought our olive grove in 1997 with a long-term view of having a project that would keep us interested and engaged in our retirement and to be able to enjoy a property that was already established. That quickly changed to a serious business. In 2002, with the realization that we had a sizable fruit set which went on to produce a smooth velvety herbaceous extra virgin olive oil that resembled nothing we had tasted, we needed to decide whether we would become contract growers or launch our own brand. The former would have allowed us both to continue living and working in Wellington and treating the grove as a weekend retreat. Since we were pioneers and the New Zealand olive industry was also in its early stages, we liked the idea of launching our own brand with ‘quality’ as the key driver of our business. LOT EIGHT was established and as our first product, we released an estate blend of extra virgin olive oil destined for the local market. From its inception, LOT EIGHT has remained in the hands of its original owners. Operations largely rely on Nalini and a small group of contracted specialist companies to help with grove management, harvest, pressing, bottling and storage. Nalini has an exceptional palate and is LOT EIGHT’s oil maker and the person who creates all of LOT EIGHT’s provisions. LOT EIGHT receives all orders and dispatches them all from its custom built office and commercial kitchen located at the grove. Today, we produce two blends of extra virgin olive oil; cold pressed fragrant olive oils like Citrus, Harissa, Sweet Aromatic, Flavours of the East, Herbs de Provence and marinated olives. It is a very different company from the one that produced a ton of fruit in 2002 and close to 40 tons this season.”
What are the current product range and variants and how do these products stand out in the market?
“We started our business with the determination that we would only produce wholesome products. It was the most comfortable we felt about owning a brand. And we have not deviated from this decision. While it meant we would only attract a certain segment of the food and beverage market, we were content knowing that our business would experience a slow and steady growth. Like many parts of New Zealand, the olive trees we source fruit from begun yielding commercial quantities of fruit in the last five to six years and LOT EIGHT has experienced significant growth in the period. Retail customers as well as chefs sought out LOT EIGHT based on the quality of the product. Today, 70% of our sales are to some of New Zealand’s top restaurants and cafes and the rest to food conscious retailers like for example NOSH, Moore Wilson, Ontrays and Stains, Ballantynes and smaller committed retailers, all of whom we have direct relationships with since we manage our business from tree to delivery.”
“I arrived in New Zealand in the early 80s. Many of the herbs and spices used in Indian cooking were at that time difficult to find in New Zealand, which allowed me to sample flavours from other cuisines to develop my own unique fusion flavours. New Zealand is full of beautiful natural products, all ready to be utilised in ways to keep food lovers looking forward to new and exciting ready to use products. My ability to create food using fresh ingredients is the reason LOT EIGHT is able to produce cold pressed fragrant olive oils like the Citrus, Yuzu Harissa, Aromatic, Flavours of the East and Herbes de Provence. I handpick each ingredient and determine the quantities I will need to create flavours when pressed with fresh olives. The result is a combined flavour profile that pleases the palate of anyone looking for fresh wholesome flavours. Chefs as well as home cooks with discerning palates seek our creations. The following of LOT EIGHT oils and the appreciation for what we make for our customers has created a love for what I do at LOT EIGHT. Each season I set out to find new and exciting ingredients, I dream up the tastes they will produce when pressed with olives and anxiously wait for the season to start so I can begin experimenting with these ingredients.”
Has there been any recent company news?
“Working with the foodservice industry brings with it the opportunity to work with chefs and that brings with it a pretty good opportunity to dream up new recipes. Each season we are approached for bespoke oils, for example last year I made a curry oil for the Copthorne Hotel in Wellington for their Wellington on a Plate menu as well as their menu for the ‘Prison to Plate’ menu. We also made a Vietnamese oil for Monsoon Poon, also for their Wellington on a Plate menu. This year I have three bespoke oils to make but since they are commissioned work, I am unable to discuss the blends until they have been made and delivered.”
What are the plans for the business moving forward, is there any expansion on the horizon?
“We will continue to grow our local market, offer in-store tastings and support initiatives like Wellington on a Plate and other New Zealand based food and beverage programs. We will continue to produce stellar New Zealand products and continue to work with people who have identical business philosophies. For now the plan is to take our current blends and increase production to bring our products to more Kiwis. New Zealand is a market that has unlimited potential for extra virgin olive oil as well as fragrant oils. All our planning currently is based on growing the local market and we are very excited about finding new ways to deliver our products to our local customers.”
Where are your products currently available to buy, and are you looking at or wanting to expand your availability? If so, where would you like to see the product situated?
“We pride ourselves on personal relationships and being available to our clients. Consequently we do much of our own have largely done our sales and marketing. Our products are available from all Nosh stores, Moore Wilson’s and Ontrays in Petone and Ballantynes in Christchurch. Moore Wilson’s and Ontrays are able to meet the requirements of our retail as well as our foodservice customers; however we manage a majority of our foodservice accounts direct.”