A day in the life of a Borough Market trader
Marianna from Oliveology talks to us about embracing the elements, award-winning olives, and life in one of London’s oldest food markets.
It is achingly difficult to pass by Oliveology without taking a closer look: the wooden shelves piled high with Greek oils, cheeses and honeys test the willpower of any hungry wanderer. A smiling staff member hands over a free sample of their award-winning raw olives, grinning haughtily as you ask for another, before cheerfully obliging. Another directs you to a counter lined with an incredible selection of olive oils made in more varieties than you thought possible (tip: try the walnut, rosemary and fennel oil, it’s divine) all in dishes with dipper-sized chunks of bread, just waiting to be enjoyed. Every visit is a treat for the tastebuds, and one thing quickly becomes abundantly clear: these people take their produce seriously.
This is Oliveology, nestled within London’s historic Borough Market, and the brainchild of Marianna Kolokotroni. Offering up a veritable smorgasbord of hand-picked Greek produce, it’s hard to believe Marianna as she recounts its humble beginnings 7 years ago, with just a table, an umbrella, and a few bottles of delicious artisanal olive oil from Sparta. Her pride in her brand is clear as she talks us through its expansion, particularly moving into the current store last year, which is when she chose to become part of the Lightspeed community. We asked her a few questions on the trader lifestyle, life in one of London’s most prestigious food markets, and how incorporating technology into such a traditional form of sale has been.
Marianna, can you tell us a little more about Oliveology’s journey?
I’m proud of Greek cuisine, and it’s use of simple, natural ingredients to create healthy meals without losing out on flavour. I wanted to show people that Greek food is more than just tzatziki and moussaka! There is so much to work with. 7 years ago I noticed that there was a gap in the market for authentic Greek produce, whereas Spanish and Italian produce was abundant. I became the first seller of Greek foods in Borough Market, and we went from strength to strength. Over time we established a strong customer base, expanded our product line and were able to move into our permanent store here last year. We also sell from a second location now, our warehouse at Spa Terminus. It’s hard work, but worth it!
Great! And do you have a particular customer base you’re going after?
Not at all! We see people of all ages in here, from athletes to vegans to celiacs: anyone who is looking for simple, healthy food, responsibly sourced. People often come specifically for our olives, which are unique in that they are raw, not pasteurised or in brine. This is quite hard to find elsewhere.
What is it like being a merchant at Borough Market?
We love it. I mean, you are exposed to the elements (she says, wrapped up against against the cold January chill and clutching a coffee close, but still smiling). We all prefer this to being sat indoors. It really depends on the type of person you are. Here at Borough Market you can talk to different people all day. There is inspiration literally surrounding you, and you are a source of inspiration to others too. All sorts of food from around the world come together in this historic space, to experiment and collaborate. We traders often ask each other questions and draw on each other’s experiences, there is such a sense of community. We live the highs and the lows together, and the atmosphere is really friendly; even when we are really busy, we all suffer together!
So Christmas was a busy period then?
Absolutely, we saw a massive increase in trade from last year, mostly as a result of moving from a stall to a store, and increasing our range of products. We also changed the store around in August in order to give our customers a more sensory experience and showcase more to passers by. For most customers, a couple of tastes of our olives is all it takes; the products speak for themselves.
It seems like 2016 was a great year for Oliveology. Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions for 2017?
As a business, it would be to cut down on waste: we want to show people that it is possible to eat well without wasting so much. We want to convince Londoners to select more carefully sourced ingredients and think more about how it got here, who made it, and how much packaging it has. The food you buy, the choices you make, affect so many things. Not only your body, but the people and the environment around you. People need to think of this more and if we can trigger this self awareness, and provide delicious food at the same time , then we have succeeded.
As you mentioned, Borough Market is one of London’s most established food markets, it’s over 1000 years old! How did you manage to incorporate technology into your business without detracting from this authenticity?
We use technology as much as we can, for example through our website and social media. These are great ways of connecting with people on a personal level. It’s like having a little family really, people have lots of respect for what you do. It allows for customers to give more reviews and critiques, which can be extremely useful for a growing company like ourselves. The site allows people to continue to buy our products even if they aren’t based in London. We also use technology in store; in fact, one of the main reasons I chose to use Lightspeed EPOS for our store was its subtle design. It allows us to work seamlessly in store without taking away from that authentic experience customers are searching for when they visit such a historically important site. At the end of the day our products are most important, and we use technology to enhance this message, not overshadow it.
Speaking of your products, we see you received an award recently! Can you tell us more about it?
Our raw olive selection received a runner up award for the ‘slow food’ competition, which is everything that is contradictory to fast food. Nothing mass produced, nothing commercial. Think traditional methods, slow processes to draw out more flavour. It’s a particularly significant award for us as it is often given to Italian establishments for more well-known products like Parmesan. This is the first year it has been given to a Greek company, so we are understandably proud. It’s not something we entered, so it was great to be appreciated without having to push ourselves on anyone.
Finally, is there any advice you can give to aspiring traders setting out on a food dream?
Always do your research before and make sure this is the right thing for you. It’s easy to get drawn into the lights of Borough Market, but being a trader is no picnic. It is a gruelling and long process to break even, let alone be successful. You need to be determined and happy to sacrifice weekends and holidays for a long while. Also, I would stress how important it is to find a niche. Be unique. Authenticity is key.
You can find Oliveology in Borough Market, Southwark, just a stone’s throw from our Lightspeed office.
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