By: Sheldon Waithe | September 3rd, 2019
The Sauce of Success
Even fairytales require hard work from its main characters. As one half of the dynamic duo at the helm of Bertie’s Pepper Sauce maintains: “People see the grinding of peppers in the factory but they don’t see the grinding of feet on the pavement to build sales.”
It’s an oxymoron; the company’s fable is really an everyday business truth. Indeed, Bertram Steuart started his own recipe for pepper sauce in his kitchen, supplying a few restaurants, and certainly it’s grown to become the standard-bearer for a product that is intrinsic to T&T society, but it would take time, vision and effort to take the brand to the pinnacle of the local market.
‘Bertie’s’ journey to the top was facilitated by his wife Allana and youngest son, Logan. While they represent opposite ends of the spectrum of generations, they are equally practical, passionate, savvy and intelligent about their business. Where Allana is precise and thoughtful, Logan is energized and enthusiastic. Both have salesmanship coursing through their veins.
“I made my first invoice in 2006” Allana reminisces “by 2008 we started realizing that there was something in this. So instead of someone asking us to supply, I would go out to them.” Logan jumps in “2012 was Massy right?!” His mother confirms “Yes. Supplying Massy is when we realized that we had to supply bar codes, lab results and that things needed to be done in a more professional manner. One of the big game changers was Logan coming into the business because at that time I was still doing deliveries myself, it was great him expressing an interest…….even though it took three years until I was able to pay him! (laughs)”
Logan saw the potential “Slowly but surely we were in chains like ‘Linda’s’ and ‘TGIF’ and you think ‘okay this is something, now you’re on the shelf.’ We went from doing a few cases a month to the peppers being done during the day and I and Mum sat up at night labeling by hand. And all that time we were talking about it; the numbers were nowhere near to being able to move production out of the house but that’s when I said ‘I can do this’ just that feeling that ‘this isn’t for anyone else.’”
With bigger clients like PriceSmart also on board, Allana realized “that the product quality could not be compromised” so bigger premises were sought, first to Woodbrook and onto Aranguez. “We got CARIRI to give us an infrastructure layout for that professional touch because everything in food production is flow, processing and proper storage.” Seeking out the best opinions and advice is evidenced by their constant attendance at courses and huge volumes of research. “A lot of googling, getting lost on the internet and then coming back and brainstorming.” Which is one of the company’s great strengths: that constant infusion of ideas and strategy gives Bertie’s a very hip feel; despite its position as number 1, it’s still going places because of the fire under it (pun most definitely intended).
“We’ve had the export conversation but you have to look at the numbers.” says Logan and Allana adds “We would need to get for example FDA approved, so yes we will like to do it (export) but I don’t see it being on the table for another year.” Logan concludes “How do you go from making pepper sauce for aunties etc to making as much as we do now? I don’t believe it was just that Bertie’s was a great product; it really was Mum’s drive in the first few years that made it happen. You can have the best idea for anything but if you don’t go out and churn it and drive it, it does not matter. That’s what Bertie’s represents: the ability to take something great and expand it.”