Undeterred by the recession, Dawn Foster left a career in marketing in 2009 to start her own business, a Chilean olive oil and jam importing company in Atlanta, with the help of five other female entrepreneurs.
Following her passion for gourmet foods and her interest in Chile, she started Foster Fine Foods LLC.
“It was a dream that I always had that I wanted to start my own company. It just happened to be in the middle of the worst recession ever,” she said, adding that she first became interested in Chile after a trip there in 2001.
Her extra virgin olive oil, which comes from the Maule Valley in Chile, an area also known for harvesting grapes for fine wines and unique jams with flavors like onion or pear, are in Fresh Market stores an gourmet shops in 29 states, the District of Columbia and the country of Barbados.
To begin this endeavor, Ms. Foster enlisted the resources of five women: a jam supplier, a customs broker, a web designer and a mother and daughter shipping team.
Ms. Foster told GlobalAtlanta that she intentionally selected a cadre of businesswomen over men to work with because they seemed to her to be easier to work with and more helpful.
“We’re willing to help each other … When you’re a small business sometimes people don’t want to work with you and I found women-owned businesses were much more supportive,” she said.
Starting in a country that Ms. Foster described as the “California of South America,” because of its great climate for agriculture, the jams are produced by Patricia Martini’s small company Huerto Azul in Villarrica, Chile.
Ms. Martini makes traditional marmalades, jams, fruit juices, sauces, chocolates and artisan ice cream for her five shops in the south of Chile.
Ms. Foster learned about Huerto Azul from Pro Chile, an organization that helps Chilean businesses grow internationally.
The olive oils are produced on the Las Doscientas estate in central Chile, where the olives are hand picked and then pressed immediately after to maintain freshness. The brand is entirely new to the U.S., she said.
Foster Fine Foods imports two types of extra virgin olive oils, one made from arbequina olives and another from picual olives.
Both are originally Spanish olives, although the arbequina has a smooth, nutty flavor while the picual has a somewhat peppery taste that creates a subtle tickle in the back of throat, said Ms. Foster.
The jams and olive oils are shipped into the Port of Savannah with the help of customs broker Lisa Berg, who works for Global Customs & Logistics in Savannah.
Ms. Berg said that her company brings in a lot of pastas and olive oils, but that Ms. Foster is the first person to import Chilean olive oil.
Stephanie Wagner, who owns Accellatrans Warehouse and Logistics with her mother Vicki Brown, said Ms. Foster is also one of the few female importers that she has ever worked with in an industry dominated by large corporations or men.
Like Ms. Foster, Ms. Wagner left a career in the corporate world to start her own company during the recession.
In 2008, she left a job in sales with the General Electric Co. and joined her mother in starting the company in Savannah. Her mother has 30 years of experience inlogisitics and also owns the trucking company Falcon Transport. The women added a warehouse component to the shipping company.
Once her foods made it to Georgia, Mrs. Foster learned that retailers and customers were unfamiliar with Chilean olive oil.
“I found that people don’t even know that olive oil comes from Chile,” she said.
While Chilean companies have started exporting the culinary oil in the past three years, importers are mostly bringing in olive oil from countries like Spain and Italy that are already well-known for their quality.
To help spread the word on her product, Ms. Foster has enlisted the help of web designer Bernadette Peters and public relations specialist Tania Zamorsky.
Ms. Peters owns Natural Marketing Services LLC, an Atlanta-based company that provides marketing, web and graphic design, photography and video production. The company set up Mrs. Foster’s website.
Ms. Zamorsky recently started a small public relations business, taking on Foster Fine Foods as her first client this year.
“Both of our businesses are relatively young and its been fun and rewarding working to grow them together,” Ms. Zamorsky told GlobalAtlanta.
Despite the recession and the challenge of educating retailers and customers on Chilean olive oil, Ms. Foster said she has found a terrific market in the Southeast.
“There are a lot of consumers who are craving these high-quality products,” she said.
To order products online or to see where the gourmet foods are sold, visit www.fosterfinefoods.com.