Giving the gift of food means something different in post-pandemic 2022. One has so many more options in a new era in pantry essentials – aesthetically, at least. And it’s affecting how we feast and give. A recent Eater headline proclaimed: “Olive Oil Never Needed a Rebrand — But It’s Getting One Anyway.” The article explored new brands that make olive oil suddenly cool, and even… sexy? Eater pointed to Single & Fat’s olive oil adverts, which feature models cavorting in luxury hotels while slowly and provocatively drizzling luscious olive oil over their pasta.
On the other side of the grocery store (and all over social media), we are all familiar with the refrain: Hot Girls Eat Tinned Fish. (The delightfully packaged Fishwife brand frequently sells out of the t-shirts they print that say exactly that). The concept of ‘hot girl food’ has leapt out of the tinned seafood aisle and into condiments. It has also, within the span of the pandemic, evolved. A new, unabashedly bold aesthetic ties many newer, smaller retail brands together. But there are more commonalities: more and more brands arise from non-traditional producers.
For Lucia Flors and Carlos Leiva, co-founders of Siesta Co. - also known as my current tinned fish obsession (their mussels are to die for) - their fledgling brand grew out of longing for home: “We launched Siesta in May 2022, but have been working on the project for many years. After moving to the U.S. in 2013, we realised that there was a need for high-quality and accessible Spanish products. We are both physicians and moved to the States for further training in our field, nearly a decade ago. Being away from our home country, we realised how much we missed the flavours of Spain, its incredible specialty products, and the easygoing aperitivo culture. Every time that we’d go back to visit our family in Spain, we’d return with luggage full of food—mainly conservas. That’s when the idea came to life. Siesta was created as a way to bring a piece of Spain to the U.S. and share the flavours that we grew up with amongst food lovers in our new home.”
Image courtesy of Siesta Co.
Siesta Co.’s packaging evokes art deco style, and its name harkens to a lifestyle decidedly foreign to fast-paced American dining culture. They say: “We wanted Siesta Co. and its packaging to be classic and atemporal, but with a sense of modernity. We want to be seen as a brand that offers traditional, high-quality products for the modern lifestyle. Our brand name, Siesta, is an emblem of Spain, and a symbol of the good life. Siesta, that moment of pause, relaxation, and enjoyment of a mindful meal, truly encapsulates the values of our brand.”
Like many new brands, Siesta Co. has an eye towards sustainability, but theirs is built into the core of their company and isn’t necessarily proclaimed on their boxes. Flors and Leiva explain: “Having strong, healthy fishing communities for many generations to come is integral for maintaining our Spanish culture. All our products are traceable and sustainably sourced, meeting international certifications. The origins of conservas are directly related to conservation, as canning is a very energy-efficient method for preserving food for years to come. We believe in taking things slow, which is why all our tins are shipped by slow-moving boats, giving each tin a minimal carbon footprint.”
Bellemille Extra Virgin Olive Oil was also a way for founder Alexa Dombkoski to confront feelings of longing, and for her, the brand similarly bridges the gap between multiple aspects of her life. “I launched Bellemille in 2020, in the throes of Covid. I was living in Florence, Italy, at the time, and the entire country was completely shut down. I was unemployed, having worked in tourism up until that point, and I was looking for a plan B. I grew up in the restaurant business and when I came to Italy, I really fell in love with the food culture, and it became my gateway to learn about Italian culture and how to integrate into my new home. Between my restaurant background and my passion for food, it really all clicked into place to start a venture in the world of Italian food. It was especially hard being away from home during Covid. And after spending nearly 10 years in Florence, separated from family, friends and my own culture, Bellemille became a way to share all my wonderful experiences in Italy with the people I love back home,” Dombkoski says.
Image courtesy of Bellemille
Bellemille’s bottles are intentionally design pieces. Dombkoski was mindful of kitchen aesthetics when branding it. “My hope for Bellemille olive oil is that it is proudly displayed on the table right next to an amazing bottle of wine. I don’t want it to be hidden away in a pantry or cabinet, I want people to be proud to display it. Customers have already commented on how they love showing it off at dinner parties, or even that it ‘matches’ their kitchen and they love keeping it on the countertop.”
Dombkoski and the founders of Siesta Co. both exhibit little desire to become multinational conglomerates. Bellemille sells a single estate, single harvest olive oil. “Once we sell out of the new harvest each year, that’s it,” says Dombkoski.
Baba’s Acid Trip, the only kombucha vinegar on the market, is also a pandemic baby. Baba’s Brew founder Olga Sorzano, who is also a trained professional chef, reports that it was started in reaction to losing 70% of their kombucha business. “Due to supply chain issues, we pivoted towards creating a shelf-stable product, answering the challenging logistical requirement many retailers face when ordering Baba’s Bucha, our kombucha that is a raw fermented tea that must be refrigerated. Kombucha also has a relatively short shelf life: four months,” says Sorzano.
Image courtesy of Baba’s Brew
So Sorzano tinkered away. “These issues caused me to rethink our business model. I fermented the kombucha six months longer than we normally would — when I tasted it, it didn’t resemble kombucha. Instead, it tasted like a well-balanced, bright, zesty vinegar. In addition, all the sugar was completely fermented out, which made the product shelf-stable and extended its shelf life to two years. We continued to experiment with infusing the kombucha vinegar with fresh fruits, herbs, and spices, which ended up making this product an even more versatile and exciting addition to any pantry.”
Acid Trip’s packaging is playful, bold, and in-your-face. “It’s a play on words: vinegar = acid. However, instead of the altered state of consciousness, Baba’s Acid Trip is an altered approach to kombucha, which makes you think of vinegar in a completely new light,” says Sorzano.
Olga Sorzano, photo by Christopher Cieri
This holiday season, make your festive tables extra bold and think of vinegar, olive oil and tinned seafood in new lights. Stir kombucha vinegar into cocktails, drizzle single harvest olive oil onto your cakes and crack open a tin of quietly sustainable seafood. We may not have known our pantries needed a rebrand, but these fresh, new companies are showing us the way.
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