Andrew Benin always wanted to find the best way to express himself. The “desire to break out and do it on my own” was always there, he says.

The 31-year-old Brooklyn native is first generation American; his parents immigrated from Ukraine and Belarus in the ’80s as a result of religious persecution. He graduated from Binghamton University’s School of Management in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in international business and management and got hired in the retail sector at Warby Parker. He then held a number of roles at mattress company Casper, including project manager.

It was working at these relatively young companies that helped him realize he wanted to be an entrepreneur. And he quickly realized the space he’d want his company to be in is food.

“As a child, I feel like I really suffered with controlling my weight and feeling comfortable in my own body,” he says. “And I originally wanted to make a difference in that world.”

He began attending conferences about food security and nutrition. That led to meeting James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Anthony, to leaving his job at Casper and to staging, or doing an internship, at Michelin star restaurant Gramercy Tavern in 2018. He then did a series of short work stints at startups like Oura and Magic Spoon.

In December 2019, Benin took a trip with his now-wife to her native Spain. That’s where he tasted the best olive oil he’d ever had. “The experience was truly sensory for me,” he says. “That was the catalyst” to what would become his olive oil company Graza, founded in October 2020.

In 2024, Graza’s total gross sales are projected to pass $48 million, according to the company. Here’s how Benin, co-founder and CEO of Graza, built his booming olive oil business.

Squeeze bottle was ‘the form factor’

After having that first taste in Spain, Benin went on a DIY olive oil tasting tour in the country and brought some oils back to the States. He then let his mentor, chef Anthony, give them a try, thinking it could be a luxury brand. His mentor had a different idea. “This oil is amazing,” Anthony said. “Now your job is to make it available for as many people as you can.”

Benin started looking for the right olive from which to make his oil and landed on the Picual, found in Jaen, Spain. He liked how it tasted and knew it was a type of olive that could sustain a long trek across the Atlantic. “This is product that is going to have to go from Spain via containers to warehouses,” he says. It needed to be durable.

Benin with some Graza olive oil.

Courtesy Andrew Benin

Early in the innovation process, Benin had the idea to put his oil in its now signature squeeze bottles while taking a shower using a squeeze bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Castile soap. “That’s it,” he thought at the moment. “This is the form factor.”

In an effort to distribute some of the work of an entrepreneur and make the journey in building the company a little less lonely, Benin decided to take on a partner. He brought Allen Dushi, now the co-founder and COO of Graza, onboard. A longtime acquaintance Benin had always looked up to, Dushi had more than a decade of retail experience from working in apparel Benin felt the company needed.

Graza is named after Grazalema, a village in the province of Cadiz in Spain and the first stop on Benin’s olive oil tour.

‘We sent 300 packages out’ to influencers

The company had two early investments. The first was from Neil Parikh, co-founder of Casper, who put in $50,000 in May 2021. This helped them create the product for the first time and build their website and $230,000 from various angel investors later that year, which helped buy more product.

His bottles feature single varietal olive oil, not always the case for olive oil as some bottles are made from a blend. Most of the production takes place in Spain (unless they’re forced to buy olives from outside the country, as they’ve recently had to do as a result of oil shortages), from harvesting to pressing to packaging. By the time the bottles arrive at their New Jersey port, they’re ready to sell.

Graza started with two products: Sizzle, olive oil for cooking; and Drizzle, olive oil meant to be used as a topping for drizzling on salad and pizza, for example. Their price points were right in the middle of retail ranges for olive oils: Drizzle was $20 per bottle and Sizzle was $15.

The critical component the company didn’t have upfront was a marketing budget. To get the word out about their product, they leaned into the power of social media. They sent their bottles to influencers like Justine Doiron and Molly Baz, who each have hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers, to share.

“We sent 300 packages out,” says Benin. “That was our entire advertising budget for our first eight months of existence.”

Launch day was January 11, 2022, when their oil was available for purchase on the site. And Graza was a hit. “We had raised enough money for what was six months of operating with this amount of inventory,” says Benin. Within a day, “it was all gone.”

Whole Foods called the following day.

‘We don’t need luxury in this industry’

That first year, Graza made more than $4 million in sales. By the end of 2023, that shot up to more than $19 million.

Graza’s previous and projected sales.

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Benin credits the success, in part, to good coverage. Both Bon Appetit and Food & Wine have reviewed Graza’s product. Plus, Graza has continued sending their oil to influencers. “You’ve got someone with a million followers, you’re not going to give them a $35 bottle of olive oil for the outsized return?” says Benin about sending both products.

Benin also credits the quality, simplicity and price points of Graza’s oil. Today, Sizzle sells for $16 and Drizzle for $21 (they hiked the prices $1 after a poor harvest year in 2023). Consumers can buy the product in stores — they’re now sold at more than 13,000 retailers — and on Graza’s website. They recently started selling beer can refills of both types of oil — so customers don’t have to buy a whole new bottle every time — and they’ve done small collaborations on products like canned, nonalcoholic olive oil martinis and chips.

The company’s had some stumbling blocks. The end of Graza’s first year in operation saw problems with packaging, like damaged bottles and labels falling off. Benin sent out a mass email to “around 35,000 apologizing and illuminating all issues,” he says.

In April 2023, Benin got some press for posting an angry LinkedIn post about a competitor’s new pizza oil that came in a squeeze bottle. He then edited the post to include an apology.

Overall, the company is in a good place.

“We don’t need luxury in this industry,” Benin says. “We just need really high quality at a price point where as many people can experience it” as possible.

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