Where does the Sauce Shop concept come from?
James (Digva – Pam’s husband and co-founder of Sauce Shop) and I were working for large food companies in 2014. We were cooking at home a lot, making sauces for our barbecues and things like that. It was that cliched story of a friend saying, “That’s really good – you could probably sell it!” We never really intended to start our own business, but contacted the West Bridgford Farmers’ Market and a few weeks later we were selling there. Everything happened a little fast!
What was the concern at the start?
We both come from quite entrepreneurial backgrounds, so there are a lot of people who have businesses in our families. It started out as a hobby, but it lasted about ten minutes before we realized we could potentially have a real business in our hands. But there was definitely some apprehension about doing our first market stall, because we didn’t know what we were doing. We literally arrived with a gazebo and eight different products, and it was terrifying! It was the first time people we didn’t know tried things we had done. I think we sold 20 bottles and claps our hands at the end! So for us it was a success.
How did you see the gap in the market for high quality sauces?
We both agreed that sauce was a tired category in food, and the hot sauce and ketchup choices were a bit uninspiring. Supermarkets are just dominated by Heinz and Unilever. Even the artisan/craft market in 2014 wasn’t great – it was just a handful of people making hot sauces, chilli jams and ketchups which weren’t very good, usually contained thickeners and cost around £6. It felt like there was no middle ground with really good quality, accessible condiments. We could see what was happening with beer – Brewdog was already making waves and disrupting this category, so we thought the market for sauces was ripe for us to do the same.
Have you noticed a consumer shift towards independents since the launch of Sauce Shop?
Yes definitely. Brands like Brewdog, Fever Tree, Innocent and Proper have all led the way in disrupting their own food categories. This challenger brand mentality has made people much more aware of independent brands. People tend to favor them because they’re a bit fresher, and they look and taste better. They’re just more interesting brands, and you can talk to them on social media. Companies like Heinz are just one big faceless conglomerate, and that’s not really what people want these days. It’s not just the customers either, it’s the retailers. We have embarked on Sainsbury’s Future Brands initiative, an incubator program which involves bringing small brands to Sainsbury’s to add interest and personality to their range.
You see with a lot of brands – like Oatly milk, for example – that the brands have developed their own personality. How conscious is that choice and is that something you’ve done with Sauce Shop? If so, how would you describe your brand personality?
Oat milk is a good example – I drink it in my coffee, and it’s a pretty bland product. But Oatly managed to make it extremely attitudinal and humorous. Sauce Shop definitely has a personality that has been determined by us becoming the challenger brand in the sauce market. We rebel against what Heinz is, even to the point where our branding is stripped down to black and white, which is a little bold in this category. I guess our tone of voice is a big part of who we are: a little rebellious, a little cheeky and fearless.
We basically went from selling twenty bottles in a market to selling 40,000 bottles a week in the supermarket
Over the past eight years, Sauce Shop has taken a huge upward trajectory – what would you name as your personal high point?
The launch at Sainsbury’s was massive. It was incredibly stressful, and some of our team members were literally sleeping on pallets in the warehouse because we were working all night. But seeing our sauce on the shelves of Sainsbury’s for the first time in 2017 was special.
How did you navigate scaling to company size?
The bigger the company grows, the bigger the challenges become. We both started making sauces at home, then we outsourced the production for about a year, but the quality was rubbish, so we ended up building our own factory. We started with a thirty liter pot, and now have a 600 liter and 1,000 liter vessel cooking all day, four days a week, producing 40,000 bottles a week. And it might be more now, since we got into Morrisons. So we basically went from twenty bottles sold in a market to 40,000 bottles per week in supermarkets, our own e-commerce platform and many restaurants – which gives you an idea of the size of the ladder upwards.
Nottingham is also the birthplace of HP Sauce. What does it mean to you to be part of the Notts sauce lineage?
It means a lot to us. I’m originally from London, but feel like I’m from Nottingham now, and James was born and raised in Notts. It’s such a wonderful and creative city and everything is so much more concentrated than in London. Obviously, there’s also the HP sauce backstory being created here, and we love being a part of it. It feels like bringing gravy back to Nottingham. Few people know that we are a Nottingham brand. The other day we had press articles calling us “London brand Sauce Shop”. We were shouting, “We’re not from London, we’re from Nottingham!”
Do you have your own favorite sauce?
This is such a difficult question, and I managed to narrow it down to three. First, I could literally eat our burger sauce from the jar like yogurt! Buffalo Hot Sauce is an all-time favorite of the whole team here. Then our 12:51 Scottish hat Jam, which is just a great product.
What does the future of Sauce Shop look like?
Busy! We are massively developing the independent side of the business, as well as the catering side. We already supply many restaurants, but we are devoting more resources to their development. It’s an amazing and fun part to see our products on restaurant tables, or being used in the background on chicken wings and things like that. We are also trying to get more supermarket listings. The feedback we get a lot is that people love our sauces, but feel like they can’t always buy them as part of their weekly store, so watch this space. Our e-commerce site is also great because it gives us the ability to sell literally everything we make, from weird inventions to collaborations with people. Expect many more flavors and collaborations.