It began in the family kitchen but Mr Singh’s chilli condiments are blazing a foodie trail.
The family entered several more food festivals that year, and the products flew.
After the company landed a starring role on the BBC’s High Street Dreams programme, which followed a series of entrepreneurs trying to get their products to market, Mr Singh’s Sauce caught the attention of an Asda buyer. Harvey Nichols and Selfridges followed swiftly, and suddenly companies as far afield as South Africa were contacting Sahota and asking to buy the product.
Almost overnight, the family had orders for 8,000 bottles of sauce across 16 stores.
“We hadn’t a clue what we were doing,” admits Sahota. “We were trying to make the sauce by hand, de-stemming, chopping and grinding 200 kgs of chillis. It was me, my wife, my mum, my brother and my sister-in-law working around the clock.”
Sahota quickly realised that this was not sustainable.
After eight months, he and his father reluctantly agreed that they would have to cancel the contract. “It was a baptism of fire,” he says. “But we weren’t being professional. We were killing ourselves.”
Finding a manufacturer that could product the chilli sauce to the family’s exacting standards was tough.
“We went through a couple of companies, one almost cost us the business because the product was so bad,” says Sahota. “They all wanted to add stabilisers and fixers but we didn’t want any of that.”
Finally, after two years of abortive efforts, the Sahotas tracked down a manufacturer who agreed to make Mr Singh’s Sauce their way.
“The factory’s in Cambridge and the sauce is still all-natural, made precisely to my father’s recipe,” says Sahota.
In 2012, having spent £60,000 on credit cards and maxed out loans, the company ran out of cash and Sahota began hunting for an angel investor.
Last March, the cash finally landed. “But the mentoring and advice from our investor has been even more valuable than the money,” he said.
After all the issues with supply, the family worried that they had burned their bridges with the supermarkets, but their meticulous attention to quality had served them well. Food bloggers were still championing the brand and writing reviews and the supermarkets’ doors opened once more.
One gastronomic critic, Tom Parker-Bowles, said of the product: “Mr Singh’s has real depth, length and character, though it’s made from just tomatoes, brown sugar, soy sauce, salt, vinegar and bird’s-eye chillies.”
Today, the range is available in Ocado, Tesco, and Partridges, as well as 100 farm shops, butchers and delis around the country.
“That number will rise to 500 by March. We are one of the only British chilli sauces to export to America through a listing with Fairway Market in New York. And we still export to South Africa.”
Mr Singh’s Sauces almost sealed a deal to sell its chilli sauces back to India. “That opportunity was shot down because of the pound-rupee exchange rate,” says Sahota.
The company has expanded its range to include a BBQ variety and recently launched a Punjabi Pesto.
“That’s my mum’s recipe,” says Sahota. “We call it ‘pesto’ but it’s actually a ‘thurka’. That’s the foundation to any Punjabi cuisine. But my brother and I like to have it on pasta or use it like a marinade. Some of our customers have told us they dip nachos straight into the jar. It’s been on an absolute flier.”
This year, the company is on course to turn over £250,000. Within two years, depending how successful its launch is with Tesco, that will rise to more than £1m.
The business is still very much a family affair, though they are no longer toiling in the shed or de-stemming chillis.
“My father has transformed himself from chilli sauce creator to head salesman,” says Sahota. “My 23-year-old brother runs social media, I wear a million hats, and my wife helps evenings and weekends when she can.”
The company has managed to survive five difficult years. Now that the business is on an even keel, the Sahota family have set themselves a new challenge.
“We really want to become the chilli sauce of choice to the royal household,” reveals Sahota. “Currently it’s Tabasco and I’m really upset about that.
“So if you’re reading, Ma’am, we say hello and would love you to try out chilli sauces. Made right here in London, near the Olympic Park.”
Source: By Rebecca Burn-Callander : Telegraph