Hot Pepper Dudes, LLC

Finding a Bottler/Co-Packer
August 20, 2012, 4:06 pm
Filed under: How to Start Your Own Hot Sauce Company

So now you have your recipe all set, have made it a few times as sample batches, and you’re ready to scale up to produce a production run that you can start selling.  Believe it or not it is not that easy to find a bottler (referred to as a “co-packer”) on the internet.  It doesn’t seem like they advertise all that much, don’t have discoverable web sites, or have multiple business lines and bottling is just a side thing for them.

I found that the best way to find one was to go to a local hot sauce festival (or even a farmer’s market, Saturday morning market – you get the picture) and ask around.  Turned out that many of the vendors used the same bottler.  The bottler also had his own line of sauces and was at the show, so I got to meet him in person and talk about bottling my product.

I did, however, find a few other options that are national in nature.  These co-packers have large minimums and often charge an R&D fee ($600 per product was a quote that I got from one of them).  This is tough when you are small and just getting started.  They are more geared towards the large brands that want pallets of stuff at a time shipped to multiple warehouse locatoins.

Finding a small local guy is the way to go.  No R&D fees, close by, smaller minimums means that you can turn inventory faster which keeps your product fresher.  Also staying local cuts down on your overall costs because you will not have to have the product shipped to your storage location.  Glass bottles full of hot sauce are heavy and are expensive to ship.

So the best advice I have is to ask around locally when you see a local product that has been bottled for commercial sale.

As an alternative, you can package your own product.  You will need to rent a commercial kitchen that has been approved and inspected by the FDA for this to be entirely legal.  I did not go this route for the following reasons:

  • I do not have the connections to get bulk products at wholesale prices (veggies and other stuff).
  • Bottling a large batch of sauce is very time consuming.  I still have a full-time job and didn’t want to spend an entire weekend in a kitchen making sauce.
  • Bottling it yourself means you assume all of the liability if you make someone sick with your product.

Once you find a bottler you will work with them to get a price per bottle, minimum batch run, and need to pay him about half of the total to get started.  He should also be able to run the nutritional information you will need for your label.  He will likely charge you for this since he had to buy the software that provides this information (mine charges $75 per product).

You’ll need labels for your bottles…I’ll post about that next.


Preparing your Recipe
July 6, 2011, 3:35 pm
Filed under: How to Start Your Own Hot Sauce Company | Tags: , ,

So you make this great product that everyone likes, but is your recipe something that a bottler (co-packer) can work with to re-create your unique product?  For me, the answer was no at first, and I had to work on it for a few weeks to get it in a condition that they could use to replicate my sauce.

These are the biggest things that I learned and now create every recipe the same way so that my bottler can easily follow it and I get consistent results.

  1. Every ingredient that is not a standard unit of measure needs to be weighed.  For instance, I use a lot of fresh veggies in my sauces.  Saying “1 medium onion” or “5 Ghost Peppers” does not give the bottler enough accurate information to work with.  The reason is that fresh vegetables are all different sizes…who is to say that one medium onion purchased at one location is exactly the same size as another?  So for these types of ingredients, I weigh everything both before it gets chopped up (raw form) and after it is chopped up and ready to go into the sauce.  Most bottlers can work with either ounces or grams, so either is fine.  I find grams to be a little easier for weighing very light things – like fresh herbs.
  2. Every other type of ingredient should just list the standard unit of measure, for instance “1 TSP Ground Mustard” or “2 Cups Vinegar”.
  3. Provide cooking instuctions.  Note that every bottler that is going to create a shelf stable sauce/condiment for you will always cook it at 180 degrees or higher since this is the temperature that kills all the bacteria in vegetables (much higher temperatures are needed for canning things that contain meat, so that is outside of my experience).  180 degress is generally what I consider a simmer when cooking at home, but it is short of boiling.  So take that into consideration when cooking your sauce.
  4. The instuctions should also contain step for what needs to be done after the product is cooked.  Is it bottled as-is, or do you run it through a blender?  All the steps you go through need to be noted so they can follow it correctly.
  5. Note how much product your recipe makes.  This can just be in total ounces.  So if your typical batch makes 12 bottles of hot sauce and each is 5 ounces, then your batch size is 60 ounces.  This gives them a gauge for how to scale the recipe up for larger production.
  6. Make your product a few times to make sure you can follow your own recipe and didn’t leave anything out.  If you can’t follow it, then it will be hard for the bottler to do so and you won’t be happy with the end result.

Another general consideration is to think about your ingredients and if they can be locally sourced.  Maybe you can substitute a more generally available (cheaper) ingredient that doesn’t change the flavor of your sauce and end up with a more economical product.  Just to give you an example, I use Ghost Pepper in all my products.  This is not grown locally and I have to purchase it from a grower in New Mexico.  In this case I wasn’t able to substitute anything else becuase that was what really gave them the unique flavor that I wanted in my products.  So, just be prepared that this will add to your overall costs of production – Ghost Pepper isn’t cheap, and if you have something rare in your product it won’t be cheap either.

Next we’ll talk about how to find a bottler/co-packer to produce your product.

Introduction to Starting Your Own Hot Sauce Company

I didn’t know anything about how to start a hot sauce company a little over a year ago.  What I did know was creating tasty sauces that everyone seemed to enjoy, so I figured I’d look into getting the product professionally bottled.  While searching for tips online about how to do this, I couldn’t find any start to finish articles, ebooks, or even traditional print media that described this process entirely so it took a bit of time to figure it all out.  What I’m hoping to accomplish with this blog over time is to provide aspiring sauce-makers with the information they need to get started more quickly than what I was able.  This will all be based upon my experiences, so there are certainly other approaches that could work as well.

If you are reading this, you are likely to have a recipe for a sauce or other specialty food product that everyone loves or you wouldn’t even be thinking about starting it up as a company.  The very first question you need to ask yourself is if the market really needs another hot sauce, BBQ sauce, or whatever other product you are looking to bottle.  I’d say if your product is unique, then the answer is yes.  People that enjoy these types of products are often adventurous and like to try new things.  They’ll have a “go to” sauce they use everyday but will generally be interested in trying new things.

Some questions I think you need to ask yourself before deciding that you want to start your own hot sauce company:

  • What makes my product unique?
  • Is there anything else on the market today that is so close to mine that it would be difficult to tell them apart?
  • Would my family and friends who have tried my sample batches be willing to buy the product moving forward?  (You may never actually ask them to pay for it, but helps you gauge marketability)
  • Am I willing to commit cash to getting this off the ground?
  • Understanding that this will not replace my day job in the near term, am I willing/able to commit my time on nights and weekends to work on this?
  • Will my spouse/significant other support the time and money investment?

If you’ve worked through all those questions and the answers support starting the business, then you are likely in good shape.  In reality, those are the same basic questions you’d have to ask yourself before starting any small business.  Also, you may just be considering this as a hobby in which case you wouldn’t need to be as stringent.  Just keep in mind that when you have something professionally bottled, you will end up with a lot of product!

In the next entry I’ll talk about getting your recipe ready so that you will have what you need to speak with a bottler.