Vitina Feo and her family business set-up olive oil brand Papa Vince are anything but ordinary. From knowing next to nothing about how to run an online business to knowing more than most, Vitina opened up to us about the humane sides to running a successful homegrown brand. In this piece, we go back to this special brand’s roots, and learn about the role that culture plays into molding the path charted by a thriving business.
This is Vitina’s story, in her words –
Olive oil wasn’t that popular in the U.S. At least not the good kind of it.
When my grandfather – Papa Vince, after long hours of labor and extensive travel around Italy discovered the core of what it took to produce the purest form of extra virgin olive oil, he wanted to share it with the world.
As the demand for olive oil on the other side increased eventually, quality suffered. We wanted to change that.
Our initial days of bringing Papa Vince products to the U.S. market weren’t the easiest. We didn’t know much about the nitty-gritties of how to market or sell our products on a large scale.
Supermarkets were there, but in a daunting shelf filled with hoards of olive oil variants, we didn’t know if we’d even get noticed.
We knew we had to stand out. So we took Papa Vince to the festivals!
Festivals are big in the U.S. From Wisconsin to Los Angeles, we traveled all over to get our products tested and make them known to the locals. It was a far more personal way to sell our products, and we loved it.
The response we received from the people we met at these events was overwhelming! People could actually tell the difference between the pure, unfiltered olive oil we were selling vs. the others that they were used to.
We knew that more than half of our job was done there. These festivals also helped us get access to ‘leads’, since our customers would usually share some form of contact – mail or phone numbers with us there.
Gradually with the experience we gained and some amount of momentum, we knew it was time to shift gears.
The online marketplace –
For Papa Vince, the shift to the online marketplace was surprisingly a smooth one.
“ When we felt the necessity of having an E-store backing our brand, our decision was to enter the exceedingly competitive Amazon marketplace.
This is where all the hard work we put in to build impersonal equations with our festival audiences bore fruit. Since we had a huge number of good product reviews supporting us right from the start, it didn’t take much while for us to secure the right niche on online marketplaces.” says Vitina.
Not just good reviews, but also the health-conscious ideology that goes in behind each of Papa Vince’s products helped their collective rise above competition.
“We understand the need for a healthier alternative for our diets and I think what most companies don’t
understand is just that.”
The whole system is so bent on making profits, that good health get’s left behind somewhere.
We don’t compromise on the quality of what goes into the making of our oils. Papa Vince only presses the freshest green olives which yield 13% – 18% oil. This is very costly, however it allows us to deliver the highest concentration of anti-oxidants and essential nutrients. We literally squeeze our olive juice into the bottle.
Our Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is extremely green and grassy with hints of tomatoes, artichokes and pepper. Yes, that surprising peppery kick in the back of your throat is your assurance that Papa Vince is indeed 100% Olive juice, full of antioxidants!
“As a risk taking collective, the chance of making mistakes and failing is always there – but then that’s where all the fun behind running a family business lies.”
We’re blessed to have the kind of familial support and understanding that we do. Of course there’s misunderstandings, we fight too, but we make it work.
Being a computer science engineer herself, Vitina elaborated further on their familial history, and how from 1935 till now, their mechanical press – which they use to squeeze the olives has seen it’s own transition.
“It wasn’t until 2009 that we got a complete state-of-the-art style press. Since we were keen on serving nothing but the best, we weren’t gonna compromise on the right equipment either.
After all, to compete with big companies, you need to compete on quality.”
“I think what truly keeps us going is our honesty, and the will to learn everyday. Because if you don’t, someone else’s gonna eat your bread!”
For Papa Vince, quality is the beginning, and it’s the connect.
We like to go the extra mile when it comes to showing our customers that we do care, and this isn’t just about profit or loss. It’s personal for us. We bring a lot of our personal culture and history into what we make, and I’m proud to say that it shows.
From Sicily, with love
Another facet that sets Papa Vince distinctly apart is the Sicilian Tours that they very enthusiastically organize each year.
” Italians are known for their hospitality. So keeping up with the same tradition, we take around 7-8 of our
customers with us to Sicily during the harvest time. This truly makes them feel like ‘Okay yes, Papa Vince is real!’, and it acts as a means for us to go a step forward in celebrating our culture with the rest of the world.”
At a time when the world is torn apart by distance amidst the pandemic, Vitina opens up about how these
special tours help to bridge that same familiar gap – “ We take our guests around to temples, local restaurants, markets, around the press of course. What starts as a trip usually ends up with so many of our guests buying houses of their own in Sicily! I guess that says a lot about how special these tours are.
We eat, dance, party together and it’s so cherished because nothing brings people and societies together than sharing a meal with each other. At the end of the day, we certainly see the effect of eating together as one big family. “
“Be it through our emphasis on answering each query personally or through the tours, we strive to keep the humane side of a business alive.”
I think what it all melts down to is connection. What brings our customers back to us is not just the taste or quality of our products but the connect which they develop with them.
A customer might tell me ‘ I don’t like your oil, but I like you’ and that’s enough incentive for me to keep going and put in my very best. After all, the key lies in consistency!