Customers Love Her Olive Oil. Can She Meet Rising Expectations?
Inc.|Winter 2020 - 2021
John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, talks retail expansion and new product development with fellow Texas entrepreneur Aishwarya Iyer, founder of olive oil upstart Brightland.
By Graham Winfrey

THE MENTOR

John Mackey

Mackey is more than familiar with issues of developing sustainable and organic products. He started Whole Foods Market with three partners in 1980, when organic was still considered oddball. After building the company to more than 350 stores, he sold it to Amazon for $13.7 billion in 2017.

THE MENTEE

Aishwarya Iyer

Run-ins with tainted olive oil prompted Iyer to create her own locally sourced and processed brand. Though her background includes stints at venturebacked startups, the only outside capital for her company, Brightland, came from a friends-and-family angel round in late 2019.

THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY of the first Whole Foods Market in September was bittersweet for co-founder and CEO John Mackey. He marked the occasion with the publication of his second book, Conscious Leadership, a followup to 2013’s Conscious Capitalism, but knew the pandemic had made 2020 the worst year of many people’s lives, including his. Still, like most successful entrepreneurs, Mackey is an optimist—and resilient. “I always keep my chin up and move forward,” he says. “Life is short. We should live it with heart and passion.”

In October, Mackey talked with fellow Houston native Aishwarya Iyer, founder of the handcrafted olive oil brand Brightland, to share some of his optimism—and wisdom. Founded in 2018, Los Angeles-based Brightland launched a line of direct-to-consumer extra virgin olive oils sourced from family-owned California farms. In 2020, Brightland introduced a champagne vinegar and a balsamic vinegar, both of which mix well with its olive oils.

Iyer is now grappling with how her primarily DTC company should approach retail expansion, and whether it’s the right time to branch out into even more new products.

Iyer We started with direct-to-consumer because I didn’t have a background in retail. How should we think about expanding into retail?

Mackey Getting it on the shelves is one thing. Getting customers to try it is a totally different thing. This is a very difficult time to get trials because you can’t have demos going on. If you have a really high-quality product, the best way to get people to like it in a retail setting is to give them free samples, demonstrate the product, and let them see this is a really good, high-quality product.

Iyer We were contacted by a Whole Foods buyer who saw an article we were featured in and thought it was a really compelling local story. I went to meet with the buyer and said I didn’t think we were ready yet. I would love to be ready, but I don’t know if or when we can make that happen.

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