NATURALLY GREEK

I want to introduce you to something I’m very excited about: Naturally Greek, the company I started to import and sell unique Greek food products in the United States.

I first conceptualized Naturally Greek and put it into movement eight years ago. Because of economic factors and the all-consuming nature of developing the wine business, I put it on the back-burner. I knew that to start something like this would require a major effort. I would need to create a team and an entire network. It would require a different sort of infrastructure than just the wine. For six or seven years I sat on the concept, worked on the company, created a brand, and trademarked it while I waited to find a partner in Greece.

Eventually I found that person and that partner business in the form of Lazaros Alexakis. He was an amazing find. What I did know was that he was a young energetic winemaker with ambition. He comes from an established family on Crete, so he had a stable business setup behind him already. He was intrigued by the idea of importing to American, and—something that cannot be undervalued—he had a Greek-American wife so he understood things of this culture that Greek s might not. On top of that, he was very open to ideas and creativity, which a lot of established Greeks aren’t necessarily.

When I described my idea to him, he was very open to the whole project—he understood, he was passionate. He had the resources, he was willing to get involved and would invest money and energy. There was also value added in that he had a winery, he had production. Being located in Crete, he had resources and exceptional access to raw materials of the highest quality. It was incredible to find Lazaros.

Why do I want to create a food brand? What ignited the interest eight years ago was observing a void in the representation of Greek products to upscale American consumers and chefs. By upscale I mean the modern Greek-American consumer. There was a void in the realm of clean, modern-looking packaging design and branding of Greek food. There was a lot of Greek food in the ethnic stores, but Greek food was underrepresented in the mainstream, places like Whole Foods, Andronicos, Central Markets (for those in Texas). I also believed the quality was not the best and the types of food being offered were not quite right.

First I created a brand name that spoke to the American consumer. I wanted to smash the cliché that so many Greek products use, the reliance on the cartoonish and schoolbook-like icons of mythological names, archaeological buildings, epic characters, etc. First with the brand name and then with the packaging, I wanted Greek products to be unique, but look as though they belonged in the modern world as much as anything from Italy, France, Germany, or the US. 

For the name, I created “Naturally Greek,” which speaks on a few levels of meaning.  It’s s kind of a turn of phrase, as in  “Of course, it’s Greek,” as though it should be obvious to everyone (yes, it should be) that Greek products are terrific quality and terrific deals. I wanted to create a product line with chefs in mind, so they would start believing in Greek goods as the basis of their creations. Get the pro chefs behind it, I was thinking, and the consumers might follow. Not to mention that I have the greatest respect for chefs and their nose for finding great quality/price ratios. And then, of course, the name speaks to the idea of purity and of natural products, for the people I’m working with have a very primary and direct relationship to the natural world. That can’t be emphasized enough. 

I started with olive oil and took the same approach that I did with the wine business. I wanted to know the olive growers, to know what they’re doing in their groves, in terms of pruning and agriculture. I  wanted to know soil profiles, and altitudes - I wanted to take the same holistic view of olive oil that we do of wine. To understand it is to enjoy it and respect it all the more. We wanted not mass produced olive oil, but the best quality we could get from groves in just a few of the top areas.

I went to the best 5 or 6 regions, in Greece—in the Peloponnese and a couple of places in Crete to look at olives and groves. To meet producers. The next challenge was finding the best people, the most trustworthy, because in the olive oil business there’s a lot of shady things going on. This is mostly in Italy, but it happens even in Greece. (Check out a (http://amzn.to/12965Ju) for a great journey through the light and dark sides of the olive oil business.)

And, so our ultimate challenge was to define other ways of presenting our product that showed our honesty, our transparency, and emphasized the superiority of what we were trying to bring to market. Beyond creating the best olive oil for the price, this included finding a way to maintain olive oil in a better state, a recyclable greener modern package, a move away from tin and from plastic bottles that remains the standard. 

Through a lot of research we identified the correct bag-in-box for olive oil, because the bags used for wine are not the best for olive oil. We tested this bag over a couple of years to see oxidation rates, to see how the olive oil maintains its health. From our empirical research we loved how  the oil maintained its integrity in the anaerobic environment, the protection from light it received, and the steady temperature it maintained. 

This concept has been growing for over seven years, but only got it to market about a year ago. And it’s just now about to enjoy larger distribution. We’re still working on our website, in fact. But look for our oil. It’s available through Skurnik Wine in NYC and Heritage in Chicago. And look for our other foods, which I’ll talk about in my next entry.

 

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