If you spend your Saturday mornings at the Soda City Market, you are probably familiar with the “Farm to Table” food movement, and the craft beer movement. And if you make your way down to the Main Street weekend staple during the month of November, you will probably be introduced to a sauce movement.
Behind a folding table among the line of food trucks, handcrafted pottery and street-performing musicians, you’ll find two bearded men probably wearing casual button-down shirts and welcoming smiles. In front of them will be a row of glass bottles bearing the brand of Savvy Foods.
Will Lacey is a chef by trade. He started in catering with Yellow Dog Barbeque, and also spent time with Conquest Brewery, and now Jake’s on Devine as head chef. And about a year ago, he pitched an idea for a new business venture to his friend Patrick Rogers.
The result is a line of sauces unlike many of those on the grocery store shelves. They are produced using all-natural ingredients – without preservatives or high fructose corn syrup. They released their first two sauces less than two months ago – a tomato Dijon fusion sauce, and a mole-inspired sauce.
A startup consultant previously, Rogers is the business brain behind Savvy Foods’ line of cooking sauces.
“When we’re out selling, we like to refer to it as the evolution of sauce,” says Rogers. “What we’re doing is focusing on better recipes, better ingredients, and hopefully a more compelling product and story.”
Rogers believes that the most compelling part of Savvy Foods’ sauce is, as he calls it, “its versatility.”
“You buy a barbeque sauce, you’re only going to think of it when it comes time to make barbeque or something similar,” he says. “But the friends and family that have had access to the sauce longer than the consumer have gotten used to the fact that you can use it with just about anything.”
“When we do tastings, we take a traditional protein for people to try it on – plain chicken or some pulled pork barbeque,” says Rogers. “And we take a couple of off-the-wall items that you wouldn’t think about. We make a cookie with the mole sauce, a mole and Nutella cookie, and it tastes like a snickerdoodle. We also have salsas that you can dip chips in. It kind of breaks through for people that this isn’t just for chicken and pork.”
Because of this, Rogers and Lacey avoid using the term “barbeque sauce” when describing their product. Rather, Savvy Foods’ sauces are “cooking sauces,” because they can be used for so much more. Making this differentiation clear to consumers is the most important part of their sales pitch.
“When we go out and sell, we point people to our website, where about every week or two we upload a couple new recipes to try to let people understand how to use the stuff we’re selling,” says Rogers. “Cooking sauce is a bit of a new term. We’re not the only ones that are using it, but we’re the first around here.”
Savvy Foods has experienced great success in its first few months of selling product. The best thing that has helped the company grow early has been, as Patrick describes it, “avoiding debt.”
“We raised the money to buy the first batch of sauce strictly from investors,” Rogers says. “So that’s why we have the luxury right now to let the company scale as it will. There’s no one breathing down our necks other than each other.”
The company is currently focusing on three different revenue streams. Traditional wholesale is what they have turned to in their first six weeks of actual product sales. In their first month of selling, they were able to get their product into 47 different accounts in four states – specialty food shops, butcher shops, high-end grocery stores. The Gourmet Shop in Five Points, for example. They also plan to turn to, as Rogers calls it, “Group Retail.” This means selling to vendors that do contracts with sports venues, talking to fraternities and sororities to get the products into their houses for the in-house chefs to use, and also to schools. Finally, there is the all-important Direct-to-Consumer method. Savvy Foods is in talks with Amazon to become Prime eligible, which would mean free 2-day shipping to anywhere in the country. This would be huge, because shipping in a glass bottle is quite expensive.
“If we launched sales on the site right now, we would have to charge $9 a bottle, and then I’d have to charge 6 or 7 dollars for shipping,” says Rogers.
What else is in store for this evolutionary sauce company? They are introducing a bourbon and honey mustard sauce soon, and a stout-based marinade, made with Conquest Medusa Stout. They also have pre-packaged food items, which are currently going through the regulatory process to be approved for sale. Rogers and Lacey want to keep expanding wholesale activity, to get bottles in a large variety of stores across the Southeast. They also hope to get to the West Coast in the early months of the new year.
“Hopefully [within four years] we’ll be all over the country and have a strong online presence,” says Rogers.
However, Savvy Foods is not the final stop on the career path for these two entrepreneurs.
“The plan is to aggressively grow to the point where, in a few years, if my instinct about the sauce world being similar to the craft beer world pans out, we will be an attractive buyout offer to one of the slightly larger national or international food companies with a big sauce line,” says Rogers.
Watch: Savvy Foods and Craft and Draft host a ‘craft beer and sauce tasting’
Watch: Patrick Rogers Pitches Savvy Foods at One Million Cups, Columbia