Australian gourmet olive company Molives began humbly at the Orange Grove organic farmers’ market in Sydney in 2010, at which time founder and owner Mo Amin was still finishing his final year of university. Back then, Amin says, the enterprise with his mother was nothing serious.
“We were marinating olives, stuffing olives, sourcing from farmers – just having fun with it really,” Amin says.
Over time, however, Amin and his mother built a strong following. “So I did a bit of market research, and what I learned was that there wasn’t really much going on in the olive category – it was stale.”
“You had olives in a jar – not that there’s anything wrong with olives in a jar – but not much else. And yes, there might be flavours or different suppliers, but essentially, the final product has been the same for ages,” Amin says. Amin’s research also raised a question: Where were the local growers?
“When I was sourcing for the markets, I met so many different growers, and I learned about their difficulties in taking their product to market and selling through retail channels because they’re dominated by imports,” he says.
He decided he would take on the challenge of introducing innovation and supporting local growers.
“But for me, the biggest challenge was that with a new product line – olives in a pouch – there were no predecessors to learn from.
Sourcing equipment also posed its challenges. “Next to marketing and taking your brand to market, setting up your equipment can be one of the most expensive propositions,” Amin says.
“You don’t have a market, and you don’t have sales; you have a vision, and you have a product.”
Amin and his brother rose to these challenges. “We’re engineers by background so we have the core skills for the machinery side of things.”
"We sourced some equipment from overseas, but we built the majority ourselves, once we understood the food science behind the olives. This helped cut down on equipment costs.”
When Amin came across the pouch technology, it ticked a lot of boxes for Molives.
“The pouch gives you presentation and design qualities, which you need because you’re going to be on the shelves.”
Using this packaging format meant Molives could remove the liquid and reduce the salt. But again, sourcing the right equipment for pouches – rather than tubs – proved tricky.
“For us, the focus was to deliver that quality olive without all the other fuss – the liquids, the oils, the salts – that olives usually have,” Amin says.
Developing his own processes took Amin two years. A major part of the struggle, he says, was finding a food technologist to work with.
“Most of the food technologists around Australia are dairy or meat-focused, because obviously they’re bigger industries than olives.”
Another key element was shelf life. Molives’ shelf life is seven months, but Amin points out that it’s not because the product goes off after this time.
“In our experience, seven months is the prime period for that really delicious and good-quality olive that we’d like all our customers to experience.
“We just produce to order. We’re not making thousands of olive pouches and just waiting for a customer to take them, and we’re not loading our customers with thousands of units for them to sell.”
Molives pouches are currently sold at markets and wineries, and on airlines and cruise ships, with more opportunities on the horizon.