Disrupting a Category with Innovation, Authenticity and Sustainability

In Edible-Alpha® podcast #61, Tera catches up with Sascha Dhanjal, founder and president of Saffi Foods based in Madison, Wisconsin. Launched in 2014, this innovative company provides premium oils and vinegars to top-flight restaurants and foodservice operations nationwide and to retail bulk departments regionally, with an eye toward growth.

The child of two entrepreneurs, Sascha’s journey began when she moved to Chile after college to work for an olive oil farm. Like many foreign oil producers, this farm struggled to break into the U.S. market, which is saturated with counterfeit oils that have driven prices down unfairly. Already having made inroads in the U.S., Sascha launched Saffi Foods to sell authentic oils and vinegars imported from Chile, Spain and Mexico at fair prices. Tasting the difference between her products and others on the market, Michelin Star restaurants, James Beard Award-winning chefs and catering companies across the country signed on as customers.

Next, Saffi Foods moved into retail bulk sections to offer consumers its source-verified oils and vinegars with less packaging waste. Though this recent venture has been successful, it wasn’t always easy to convince retailers to bring in the brand. Even though they loved the sustainability premise, many are tepid about bulk liquids in general, because it takes time and effort to keep the dispensers full, clean and presentable; plus, in the past, shoppers have been less enthused about liquids than they are dry bulk goods.

But Saffi Foods developed a solution to overcome these hurdles: custom dispensers that are easy for retailers to maintain and for shoppers to use, along with refillable dishwasher-safe glass bottles consumers can purchase. Following a successful test-run with co-ops, the dispenser design is now being tweaked to maximize aesthetics and usability—and prepare Saffi Foods for expansion into larger retail markets.

After discussing her company’s growth trajectory, Sascha shared a few key lessons she’s learned along the way, such as the importance of seeking outside help and understanding the cost realities of expansion. She and Tera also touched on the importance of dialing in marketing messaging, knowing your numbers (especially as a female approaching the male-dominated investment space) and balancing the rigors of entrepreneurship with family. Overall, this podcast is packed with inspiration and tips for entrepreneurs looking to shake up markets with their innovative food products.