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Ed Stolman: Visionary with a Cause

 

By Caroline J. Beck
02/01/2011

Ed Stolman is the founder and Chairman of The Olive Press, one of the most award-winning olive oil producers in the United States. Spend just a short time with him and you will discover this gentleman’s background would humble the most accomplished person. One of the scions of the health care industry, his background is purely eclectic. Among his many achievements, Stolman is responsible for bringing the Dove Bar ice cream to grocery store shelves. In the early 1990’s, he migrated from Nashville to Sonoma and poured his energy into helping build the California olive oil industry as we know it today. He is an enthusiastic supporter of ridding the industry of fraud, educating consumers about quality differences, and continuing to dream up new ways to integrate olive oil into just about everything.

Why did you first get involved in the olive oil industry?

When I moved to Sonoma with my wife, we fell in love with the countryside. It reminded us so much of our favorite vacation spot, Italy. Everyone was planting grapes, but we thought olives might do well here. We befriended some like-minded growers, including Lila Jaeger and Ridgely Evers, and decided to form a group that would help build the business in northern California. After the group took a trip to France to learn about growing and milling olives, we settled on the idea of collectively milling our olives in Glen Ellen. That’s when The Olive Press got started. Deborah Rogers was one of the original people that took that trip to France and eventually, with her keen eye on marketing and love of olive oil, she stepped in to run the business, and by that time, I had bought out the other partners. It’s still such an exciting venture and there’s always room for growth, like our new olive oil-based ice cream. Being the old Dove bar guy, I’m really having fun with it.

What do you think is the industry’s biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge is trying to get a level competitive playing field. When I first got involved in the industry, I never realized how much fraud there was. I’m convinced, though, that once people get the chance to learn about it and taste authentic, high quality olive oil, they’ll never go back. And they’ll learn that for the little difference in cost, it’s worth it. I’d like to see organizations like UC Davis change the process and set up our own standards in America that can be a lot tougher than the IOC.

What do you most enjoy about the business?

Well, I’m an old marketeer, I love to introduce people to good things like high quality extra virgin olive oil. Once they recognize the difference, they get hooked and become customers for life. Like financial expert and The Olive Press fan, Suze Orman, who is a long-time customer and introduced our products to people at Oprah Winfrey’s magazine, “O”. As you can imagine, earning a spot on the O list recently has had a huge impact on our business.

What are you working on now?

A new line of olive oil ice cream. Back in 1982, I was in the ice cream business and helped launch the Dove ice cream bar. Who doesn’t love ice cream? So, creating an olive oil-based ice cream seemed to be such a healthy product idea. We only sell it at the Sonoma store right now, but we’ve got other flavors in the works like chocolate I’m excited about.

Where is your favorite vacation spot?

After 20 years and repeated visits, it’s still Italy. I’ve travelled most everywhere in the world, but Italy is my favorite stomping place, and especially Cortona.

What quality do you most admire in a person?

In a word, integrity. All my life, I’ve been fortunate to be able to deal with so many quality people; but sometimes I feel there is a real loss of integrity and ethics in business. I’ve always believed that you should stand behind your word. I live my life that way and I hope others do too.

What is your favorite food and olive oil pairing?

I guess I’m intrigued with the ice cream pairing: bringing two foods together that I really love. But, truthfully, I use extra virgin olive oil on absolutely everything. It’s just so good for you.

What is your most satisfying achievement?

I would say the health care part of my life. Working in an industry that truly impacted quality of life and starting a company that became public, was a thrill. I looked forward to getting up and going to work every day. It made me grow up.

What was your most memorable meal?

I’ve never had a bad meal in Italy. I love Italian food and all aspects of the Mediterranean diet.

What’s next on your horizon?

Visiting the one place in the world I’ve never been, and that’s South America. I think it will be an intriguing growth opportunity in the future. And of course, I’m dedicated to continuing the push to clean up fraud in the olive oil business.