Hot sauce aims to spice up nation?s condiment market

BOULDER — ?I imagine that there’s just one guy out there making a hot sauce with vinegar, peppers and salt that everyone buys and puts their label on,? said Harry Robertson, owner of the Boulder Hot Sauce Company.

Viewing his competition as the people who capitalize on that kind of a product, Robertson believes he’s onto something different and valuable with his hot sauces. ?I use fresh vegetables and peppers to make them,? he said. ?There’re more than just a squirt of hot — they can be used in place of eight ingredients in cooking.?

In October 1999 Roberson picked hot peppers from his garden, mixed in some vegetables and realized he’d found his calling. He had left his job at Soundtrack a few years earlier, cashed in his 401(k) and was looking for the inspiration needed to decide what to do next — only this time he wanted to be an independent businessman.

?When I was down to $400, I started working at Alfalfa’s,? he said. ?It ended up being really helpful because it gave me the chance to pick people’s brains — to learn the aspects of the grocery business.?

With that information and a good recipe, Roberson put his remaining $400 into buying ingredients for Harry’s Serrano hot sauce. Soon after, he set out to establish his market.

Robertson bought bottles and caps and cooked up 40 cases just in time for the holidays. Some of the bottles he gave away, and some he sold. Results of the test marketing — a general thumbs up and craving for more from recipients — have since led to an increase to 3,600 cases a year.

Harry’s Habanera and Smokey Serrano are on the shelves of 350 to 400 stores nationwide. Next spring Robertson plans to add salsa, hats and T-shirts that boast, ?I always sweat like this.?

The marketing plan for the Boulder Hot Sauce Co. currently targets small stores and maintains a presence in Wild Oats, emphasizing the fresh ingredients and no-preservatives benefit of the sauces. Robertson purchases vegetables, including carrots, onions and poblana peppers, from various growers and retains one farmer to produce the habanera and serrano peppers.

?I realized that when you work with mom-and-pop stores and other small groceries, you get people who like their customers and are willing to sample our sauces,? Robertson said. ?So I called places, made a sell sheet and sent out samples. No one ever said ?no’ to getting the samples.?

Tacking the company’s toll-free phone number on the bottles, (866) 253-7468, has resulted in individual requests for a few bottles from as far away as Costa Rica. ?The marketing plan for most sauces is to sell one bottle to everyone,? Robertson said. ?We’re going for repeat customers.

?We work with a two rep team in New York (that is) hired on retainer,? he said. ?Last year they made road trips to mom-and-pop shops and chains. Our game plan was to go directly to the stores rather than through big distributors.?

He said he’s ready to hook up with distributors now so he can focus exclusively on the task of producing the products. ?I got started by selling directly to stores because it was all I knew to do. I still just want to keep it simple — make sauce, sell sauce, make money — but I’d like to move into being a manufacturing company only.?

The Boulder Hot Sauce Co. brought in about $42,000 in gross revenue sales in 2001, and Robertson expects to double that number this year.

?She works with a financial planning company and handles the books,? he said of his wife Bettsee. ?She also helps me not break our computers on a regular basis, and is about to become the mother of my first child.?

Robertson remains the sole owner of the Boulder Hot Sauce Co. His wife owns 1 percent of the business.

?My goal is to change the way people look at condiments and hot sauce, and retire in one year,? he said. ?There are about 300 million people in the U.S. so I just need to get to half of them to do that.?

After retirement, Robertson hopes to open a restaurant. ?I belong in the kitchen. That’s the one gift I was given,? he said. ?I’d open a restaurant for fun though — never for money.?

BOULDER — ?I imagine that there’s just one guy out there making a hot sauce with vinegar, peppers and salt that everyone buys and puts their label on,? said Harry Robertson, owner of the Boulder Hot Sauce Company.

Viewing his competition as the people who capitalize on that kind of a product, Robertson believes he’s onto something different and valuable with his hot sauces. ?I use fresh vegetables and peppers to make them,? he said. ?There’re more than just a squirt of hot — they can be used in place of eight ingredients in cooking.?

In October 1999 Roberson picked hot peppers from his garden, mixed in some vegetables and realized he’d found his calling. He had left his job at Soundtrack a few years earlier, cashed in his 401(k) and was looking for the inspiration needed to decide what to do next — only this time he wanted to be an independent businessman.

?When I was down to $400, I started working at Alfalfa’s,? he said. ?It ended up being really helpful because it gave me the chance to pick people’s brains — to learn the aspects of the grocery business.?

With that information and a good recipe, Roberson put his remaining $400 into buying ingredients for Harry’s Serrano hot sauce. Soon after, he set out to establish his market.

Robertson bought bottles and caps and cooked up 40 cases just in time for the holidays. Some of the bottles he gave away, and some he sold. Results of the test…