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Discover How Sauce Shop Went From Selling Bottles at West Bridgford Farmers’ Market to Stocking the Shelves of Sainsbury’s

18 June 22 interview: Ashley Carter
photos: Curtis Powell

From selling twenty bottles in a gazebo at West Bridgford Farmers’ Market to being stocked on the shelves of Sainsbury’s and Morrisons up and down the country, the last eight years have been a pretty wild ride for Sauce Shop. But the Notts-based purveyors of artisanal sauces are never one to rest on their laurels, this could just be the beginning of their success story, as co-founder Pam Digva tells us…

Where did the Sauce Shop concept first come from?
Both James (Digva – Pam’s husband and Sauce Shop co-founder) and I were working for big corporate food companies in 2014. We cooked a lot at home, making sauces for our barbecues and things like that. It was that clichéd story of a friend saying, “This is really good – you could probably sell it!” We never really intended to start our own business, but we contacted West Bridgford Farmers’ Market and a couple of weeks later we were selling there. It all happened a bit quickly! 

How much trepidation was there initially?
We're both from quite entrepreneurial backgrounds, so there are lots of people with businesses in our families. It started off as more of a hobby, but that lasted for about ten minutes before we realised we could potentially have a real business on our hands. But there was definitely some trepidation with doing our first market stall, because we didn't know what the hell we were doing. We literally turned up with a garden gazebo and eight different products, and it was terrifying! It was the first time people we didn't know were trying things we'd made. I think we sold twenty bottles, and were high-fiving each other at the end! So to us it was a success. 

How did you see the gap in the market for high-quality sauces? 
We both recognised that sauce was a tired category within food, and the choices of hot sauces and ketchups were a bit uninspiring. Supermarkets are just dominated by Heinz and Unilever. Even the artisan/craft market back in 2014 wasn't great - it was just a handful of people making hot sauces, chilli jams and ketchups that weren't very good, usually contained thickeners and cost about £6. It felt like there was no happy medium of really good quality, accessible condiments. We could see what was happening with beer - Brewdog were already making waves and disrupting that category, so we thought that the sauce market was ripe for us to do the same. 

Have you noticed a consumer shift toward independents since Sauce Shop first started?
Yes definitely. Brands like Brewdog, Fever Tree, Innocent and Proper have all led the way in disrupting their own food categories. That challenger brand mentality has made people far more aware of indie brands. People tend to favour them because they're a bit cooler, and they look and taste nicer. They're just more interesting brands, and you can talk to them on social media. Companies like Heinz are just this big faceless conglomerate, and that's not really what people want these days. It's not just customers either, it's retailers. We launched onto Sainsbury's Future Brands initiative, an incubator scheme which is all about Sainsbury's bringing small brands in to add interest and personality into their range. 

You do see with a lot of brands - like Oatly milk, for example - that brands have developed their own personality. How conscious is that choice, and is it something you've done with Sauce Shop? If so, how would you describe your brand personality?
Oat milk is a good example - I drink that in my coffee, and it's quite a bland product. But Oatly have managed to make it extremely attitudinal and humorous. Sauce Shop definitely has a personality which has been determined by us shaping up to be the challenger brand in the sauce market. We're rebelling against what Heinz are, even to the point that our branding is stripped back, black and white, which is slightly daring in that category. I guess our tone of voice is a big part of our personality: a bit rebellious, a bit cheeky, and unafraid.

We’ve essentially gone from selling twenty bottles at a market to 40,000 bottles per week in supermarkets

The last eight years have seen Sauce Shop take an enormous upward trajectory – what would you name as your personal highlight? 
Launching in Sainsbury's was massive. It was incredibly stressful, and involved some of our team literally sleeping on pallets in the warehouse because we were working through the night. But seeing our sauce on the shelves in Sainsbury's for the first time back in 2017 was special. 

How have you navigated the scale-up in business size?
The bigger the business gets, the bigger the challenges become. We started with just the two of us making sauces at home, and then outsourced production for a year or so but the quality was just rubbish, so we ended up building our own factory. We started with a thirty litre saucepan, and now have a 600 litre and 1,000 litre vessel which cook all day long, four days a week, producing 40,000 bottles a week. And it could be more now, since we've launched into Morrisons. So we’ve essentially gone from selling twenty bottles at a market to 40,000 bottles per week across supermarkets, our own ecommerce platform and lots of restaurants – that gives you an idea of the size of the scale up. 

Nottingham is also the home of HP Sauce. What does being part of the Notts sauce lineage mean to you?
It means a lot to us. I'm originally from London, but feel like I'm from Nottingham now, and James is Notts born and bred. It's such a wonderful, creative city and everything is so much more concentrated than it is in London. Obviously there's the backstory of HP Sauce being created here, too, and we love being a part of that. It feels like we're bringing sauce back to Nottingham. Not many people know we're a Nottingham brand. We actually had some press the other day that referred to us as "London brand Sauce Shop." We were screaming, “We're not from London, we're from Nottingham!”

Have you got your own favourite sauce?
This is such a hard question, and I've managed to whittle it down to three. Firstly, I could literally eat our burger sauce out of the jar like a yoghurt! Buffalo Hot Sauce is an all-time favourite of the whole team here. Then our 12:51 Scotch Bonnet Jam, which is just such a great product.

What does the future look like for Sauce Shop?
Busy! We're massively growing the indie side of the business, as well as the food service side. We already supply to a lot of restaurants, but we're putting more resources into growing that. It's an amazing and fun bit of the business to see our products on the tables of restaurants, or being used back-of-house on chicken wings and things like that. We're also trying to get more listings in supermarkets. The feedback we get a lot is that people love our sauces but they feel like they can't always just pick them up as part of their weekly shop, so watch this space. Our e-commerce site is great, too, because it gives us the chance to sell literally everything we make, from weird inventions to collabs with people. Expect lots more flavours and collaborations.

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