William Koucky: Oil Entrepreneur
Grand Traverse Culinary Oils just fulfilled its largest order to date. Grocery chain
Kroger is now carrying the oils in 30 of its Michigan stores.
Considering the first bottles of homegrown canola and sunflower oils were just
available last November, the jump to a major supermarket chain is a big deal for
company founder William Koucky. The company uses all northern Michigan grown,
non-genetically modified seeds to produce the oils.
“Just squished and filtered” is how Koucky described the extraction process – no
heat, no chemicals, no refining. The end result is unadulterated, flavorful oil. In
addition to the regular oils, the company is now spicing it up with offerings such as
cilantro jalapeno and garlic rosemary for dipping and salad dressings, using spices
from Suttons Bay Trading Company.
With this robust entry into the consumer market, Koucky plans to continue with
the retail side of the business, but he is already eyeing his business’ next – bigger –
“I’m looking to break into the ingredient market,” said Koucky, by providing oils to
food manufacturers and restaurants.
The former teacher turned fulltime entrepreneur wants to invest in a refinery and
second processing building at his Garfield Township facility – which can process one
ton of raw product a day – so he can move into the wholesale market.
“We want to do bulk,” Koucky said. “We want to do sunflower and canola fryer oil
and ingredient oil but we have to do the refining to get into that.”
Getting into refining will also open up the market for local farmers to plant the
seeds, Koucky explained.
“The demand is there from food manufacturers,” said Koucky. His primary market
would be local initially. He said one manufacturer, who he declined to name, could
use 100,000 gallons of oil annually. “Demand for oil (wholesale) is there, especially
The seeds, however, are another matter.
For his first harvest last year of the specialty oils, he contracted with Leelanau
County farmer Jerry Kelenske to plant 20 acres of canola seeds. This year
he’s planted 30 acres. The sunflower seeds come from Send Brothers Feed in
“Right now all seeds come within 10 miles of here but if we expand that will
change,” said Koucky.
Initially he would concentrate on sunflower because the seed is more readily
“My highest priority is to eventually get both canola and sunflower locally and
organic … but I have to prove a stable market to get farmers to put it in the ground,”
said Koucky. “With a market there would be local farmers willing to invest.”
Having a refinery would boost production exponentially – processing millions of
gallons of oil compared to the 100 gallons a day it can currently produce.
Koucky is also finding demand for the by-product of his oil production, a non-GMO
meal product which offers a high protein food for farm animals – also an area he
could expand exponentially if he gets into the refining business.
Koucky first promoted the growth of canola in northern Michigan for use as an
alternative fuel in 2005; he planted his own crop and founded Northwest Michigan
Biodiesel a year later. However, he soon saw the value of producing high-quality oil
for human consumption and developed the culinary oil business.
Grand Traverse Culinary Oils are available locally at Oleson’s, Tom’s, Oryana and
Burritt’s Market and online at gtculinaryoils.com.