If you shop on Amazon, you already know they have the best deals, especially if you are a Prime member. Think about it… after just a few touches on the screen of your Android or iPhone you can have a pack of gourmet avocado sauce show up on your doorstep 2 days later. Crazy right?! Amazon.com is now offering 4-pack gift sets of SoCal Hot Sauce and Guac Sauce at an all-time low price. Plus Amazon Prime members receive free 2 day shipping. You can’t beat that!
There are many corners in the hot sauce industry and most of those corners have an original idea that has filled that space. As time goes on, there are less and less open corners for newcomers to fill with original ideas. One could say that the market is becoming saturated with a lot of the same styles of hot sauce.
I wanted to take a few minutes to address the downfalls of copying another company’s recipe and trying to pass it off as your own. This isn’t me pleading with others to not imitate our SoCal Hot Sauces, it’s me trying to help others not make a huge mistake. Because cheaters never win.
Let me explain…
Sauce Chasers, as I mentioned in a previous blog, are notorious for copying unique and popular recipes. It takes a special kind of person to look at someone else’s recipe, reverse engineer it and bottle it under their own label. While the copycat sauce maker may make some decent sales at their local farmer’s market, they won’t succeed much further than that. Why? Well it’s because if the other company, that had the original recipe (and idea), has already had success with it then they are already established in online search engine rankings, distributor relationships and much more. How are you going to compete with an already established product that is identical to yours, if it is already taking up the first 3 pages of a Google search? You’re not. Also, the consumer is going to want to stick with the product they already know and have developed a cult like following for (which is the case with most hot sauce enthusiasts).
Craft hot sauce is gaining popularity at an exponential rate, as well as the sauce makers that represent each brand. It has gotten to the point where people want to know just as much about the person behind the sauce as they want to know what’s in the bottle. Do they want to buy a Southern California Style Avocado Sauce that is a 3-generation secret family recipe from a Hispanic, SoCal Family? Or do they want to buy a copycat sauce from a company in Idaho that set down the potatoes long enough to boast it only took them 6 tries to get it right?
Hot sauce is more than something you pour onto a meal. It’s a conversation piece. It’s something you hold in your hand at the dinner table and tell your guests about the company’s backstory.
What does that say about copycats?
The answer is simple. If it’s not original… it’s not right.
A good way to tell if a business owner is going to be successful, is to look at their backstory, work ethic and attitude. Is the niche they’re pursuing something they fell into because they enjoyed it as a hobby first? Or are they chasing what they think might be an easy payday? The hot sauce industry is no different.
The great thing about the specialty hot sauce community is that every brand has a unique backstory. If you take a deep look into that backstory, you’ll be able to tell if the sauce maker is genuine and how much heart and soul has been put into each recipe. For me, the sauces I enjoy the most come from a history of family recipes and traditions that the maker somehow figured out a way to safely bottle, without sacrificing flavor. Stories of someone’s “Grenndeddy” in the kitchen whipping up a batch of his secret spicy bbq recipe, or stories similar to our SoCal Hot Sauce Story.
We all know someone with that “one special recipe” whether it’s a sauce, salsa, bbq rub or signature dish. The recipe that people often tell them to “patent”… easier said than done, but that’s a topic for another day. These are the people that, if they have the passion and drive, should pursue their dream of sharing their recipes on a mass retail level. These are the people that have a great chance of succeeding. Again, the hot sauce industry is no different. Some of us have stumbled upon our niche by having friends and family that encouraged us, and gave us the push we needed to exploit the proverbial goldmine we were sitting on. Others, not so much.
When I hear stories of a hot sauce company that had to make (x) number of attempts to get their recipes just right to sell to the public, I can’t help but shake my head. The thought of starting a hot sauce business shouldn’t been on anyone’s mind unless they already have a good backstory and original recipe. Far too often I see what I refer to as “sauce chasers” that create a hot sauce company, without a decent hot sauce! Then these sauce chasers spend their precious hours in the kitchen, testing new (or copied) recipes, instead of handling more important tasks… like selling the flavors they already have. A telltale sign that the company is struggling and the flavors they have on the market are not doing well.
As the owner of a hot sauce company, I find it appealing to play around in the kitchen with old and new recipes. As a matter of fact, we have multiple recipes that are approved for production that we haven’t pushed to the public yet. Why? Because we have the validation we need from the 4 flavors we currently offer and are blessed enough to have those keeping us very busy. Believe me when I say it’s killing me not to be able to share our other original recipes with the public, but we will… one day. But for now those recipes will remain under lock and key.
The hot sauce industry is becoming a growing ecommerce business as the years go by. The times where the sauce maker would stand at a demo table and put a few drops of their creation on a mini spoon for people to sample, are still around, but it is not the only way to prove the validity of their spicy product. Selling online can be tricky, especially when it is an edible product. When the customer cannot physically hold the bottle, turn it sideways to test the viscosity of the sauce, taste the sauce or acquire it instantly and use it for dinner that night it can be a little off-putting for them.
So… how can a hot sauce company validate that their sauce is worth a try, without providing all the aforementioned testing protocols? They enter their best sauces in national award shows. Right now, there are about 4 national hot sauce awards that are widely recognized by the hot sauce community. These contests aren’t cheap and require a company to invest a good chunk of change to enter them. It’s safe to say that if a company is confident enough to bottle and sell their sauce recipes then they should be confident enough to enter in these contests. The hot sauce awards are judged by panels of chefs, big names in the industry and celebrity guests. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind being one of the judges, it sounds like a good time!
Recently, I overheard a sauce maker say “Maybe I should send it in for an award? Nah… I don’t need validation that my sauce is the sh*t!” Which may or may not be true. But it isn’t the sauce maker that needs validation. It’s the customer that is on the fence about which specialty sauce to buy next. It’s the person that is online looking at a photo of an edible product they can’t touch, smell or taste. It’s the person that needs assurance about their purchase. Sometime it’s not enough coming form the guy or girl that makes it telling them that it’s “the sh*t”. It holds a lot more weight when the assurance is coming from subject matter experts, that have unanimously voted, that the hot sauce you are looking at is the best in the nation of that particular style.
In the first 6 months of existence, SoCal Hot Sauce® racked up a total of 10 national and some international awards. Including the Golden Chile Award for The Original Avocado SoCal Guac Sauce™ from the 2017 Fiery Foods Show at Zest Fest in Irving Texas, one of the top awards a hot sauce company can earn. SoCal also uses the validation of “The Foodie Award” from the 10th Annual Hot Pepper Awards for the best food pairing, SoCal Hot Red on eggs.
Tom & Brittany Geist were born and raised in sunny Southern California, fell in love at their high school prom, and have been together ever since. Tom joined the Marine Corps in 2003 and was deployed to Fallujah, Iraq for 11 months. Thanks to a diet of mainly Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), which need some help to go down easy, his lifelong love of hot sauce became an addiction.
That hot sauce addiction presented a problem and what turned out to be a life changing opportunity. In late 2010 Tom was transferred to Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC) Headquarters in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. After relocating his family and falling in love with the people and community in North Carolina, he realized something was missing – the classic flavors of Southern California “hole in the wall” taco shop sauce. After searching high and low he realized there was only one solution… make his own. Without knowing it at the time, SoCal Hot Sauce was born.
Tom started with recipes passed down from his grandparents who grew up in Morelia, Mexico and his wife Brittany’s grandparents who grew up in San Angelo, Texas. He mixed those recipes together with flavors picked up over the years frequenting SoCal taco shops and unique peppers grown in his Carolina backyard. Brittany bought squeeze bottles so Tom could take his creations to work to enjoy on his lunch and share with his co-workers. It didn’t take long before those friends caught the addiction and started offering to pay him to make them a bottle or two. A few bottles turned into a few too many bottles so they decided to sell what they had left on their local yard sale website in Sneads Ferry, NC. A wide range of people from the surrounding military towns came to Tom’s house to acquire his creations. One man bought 4 bottles of sauce and texted Tom 5 minutes later as he was driving. The man texted “Just tried your sauce on my finger, so good! I’m making a u-turn and I’m getting 4 more bottles!” to which Tom replied, “Ok great! But sampling, texting and driving might not be such a good idea!”. The rest of the sauce was sold out in one night and the customers came back for more! The majority of those customers have become close friends of the Geist family and are a major support system and ambassadors for Tom and Brittany’s business.
Tom and Brittany spent the next year and a half making and selling their sauces online and at festivals under the “TG’s Hot Sauce” name. A name that had no major thought put into it other than the fact they needed a name to be a vendor at local festivals and online. TG’s Hot Sauce was a hobby. It was a fun way to make a little extra cash to put gas in the tank and pay for their kid’s school supplies, clothes and other odds and ends. But most importantly, it was a testing ground. It was a proof of concept. It showed Tom and Brittany what it would take to move their business to the next level. It showed them what flavors of their sauce sold the best and which ones sold the worst.
Something else happened during that year and a half Tom was making and selling TG’s Hot Sauce. After 11 years of honorable service in the U.S. Marine Corps, Tom was unable to re-enlist due to service limitations and current draw down policies. In March of 2015 Tom was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps and was having trouble finding work. A few months went by and Tom was able to land a job at a local NC state prison as a correctional officer. But that was not Tom’s passion. In fact, he hated that job. But as a husband and a father he did what was necessary to support his family. Tom’s passion was being a Marine and serving his country, however, that was no longer an option. On the other hand, Tom had been developing a new-found passion with his hot sauce.
In a society where securing a job that can support a family of 4 with little education is very tough. Tom decided to use his military experience, discipline, courage and knowledge to create his own job. Tom no longer works at the prison and on September 25th, 2016 Tom enrolled in college and is pursuing a business degree with a certificate in media marketing. On that same day, Tom and Brittany launched their new, upgraded and very professional looking brand of hot sauce. What started as a passion, turned into an obsession, is now SoCal Hot Sauce™ “California Inspired, Carolina grown.”
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This is an application essay for Kai Davis’s Scholarship.