Friday, January 11, 2008

Secret Sauce

This is another in my series of articles about how to market your sauce.

We usually get 2-3 inquiries a week from new vendors that have developed a new sauce that they'd like us to carry. In fact, that's one of the fun parts about the business -- the top of our refrigerator always has a huge supply of sauces to try. One of our rules is that we don't carry sauces that we don't like, unless it's a market leader and there's a huge demand for it. For instance, we generally don't use the ultra-hots personally, but we carry them because our customers appreciate it.

One thing you should consider when contacting distribution partners is timing. If you're going after specialty web sites and gift stores, Nov/Dec is a non-starter. They're just too busy with the holiday rush to look at you. Jan/Feb/Mar is a great time to be pushing a sauce -- if things start to work out, you'll be just in time for the big summer season. But calling someone on the phone during December is just going to earn you scorn.

Periodically we get a sample where the vendor is really coy about their product. Test bottles without ingredient lists seem to be the common method of trade secret protection. But today we got an actual printed letter (didn't know people still wrote those!) from a vendor that wanted us to sign a confidentiality agreement before they would send us a brochure about their special new product. Somebody's lawyer was a bit out of control.

Here's a bit of advice: you don't want to do business with someone that would sign that letter. Confidentiality agreements are always a hassle, so wise businesspeople don't sign them unless there's a really important reason. The chance to look at a brochure isn't a good reason to sign up for legal liability. This is not the right time for your department of business prevention to meddle.

Your "secret recipe" doesn't matter. Not one whit. You'll have to publish the ingredient list when you go commercial anyway, and any chef worth their mixing bowl can taste and experiment and replicate your recipe with enough time. The commercial value of the sauce is in marketing and distribution. If taste mattered, Kraft Barbeque Sauce wouldn't be a number one seller. Shelf space, a pretty label, and a well known brand name are far more useful than a secret recipe.

A secret product is even worse. As a retailer, we don't want products that people aren't looking for. We want well known products with high consumer demand, and preferably a supply limited to only us. So approaching retailers with a super secret hush hush plan is really the wrong direction.

We don't mind taking on new products. Everybody has to start somewhere, and we're proud that we've helped many new companies launch their products. These small batch products are usually much better than the glop you can buy in a grocery store, and that's what our business is built on. Finding those hidden gems and bringing them to our customers is a big part of what we do.

Don't expect a retailer to pay up front for your great new sauce -- there's just too much risk that it will be like 90% of the other new sauces on the market and be a flop. The retailer has enough cost in giving you shelf space, creating the web page, taking photos, writing copy, etc. The retailer is doing you a huge favor by giving you exposure.

If you're going to launch a new sauce, you need to be prepared to give away a lot of it. You're looking for exposure and distribution channels. Anything that gets in the way of that is a bad idea.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Add a Little Oil to your Marinade

Tonight's dinner was grilled venison backstrap marinated with an off-the-shelf marinade. I've used this marinade before to mix in with venison burgers, and it's very tasty.

Tonight's dinner, while passable, was a bit on the dry side. While I was trying to decide where I went wrong, Gloria pointed out that one of the major differences between this marinade and Greg's Happy Sauce is that Greg's Happy Sauce contains olive oil, which helps to seal the meat while it cooks at a high temperature.

Lesson learned. If you're going to grill extremely lean meat such as venison and your grilling sauce/marinade doesn't have any oil, add a bit to it for better results.