I could be wrong about this but I’m willing to stick my neck out and say Zimbabwe is a chilli loving nation. We love the fruit in its natural form of course but Zimbabweans also love chilli sauces. If you can follow a recipe, have decent kitchen skills and love your chilli you should consider starting a chilli making business. There are many chilli products on the market but chilli is very popular and the chilli market in itself has many niches. So let’s talk about the things you will have to consider to get started in the chilli business.
Chilli sauce is a type of preserve that we brought up in the preserve business ideas article. Recipes differ for chilli sauces but in most cases, they will include chillies (of course), garlic, sugar, vinegar, ginger, lemon, lime and other preservative ingredients. Finding the right recipe to work with is half the battle. You may have to come up with many different recipe iterations before you find the one that works. If you are not experienced in the kitchen please avoid the urge to “correct” the recipe by adding a little more or a little less of something until you are quite comfortable with the recipe. All you really need is a pot, perhaps a food processor if you intend to make a fine chilli sauce and preservative jars for ageing the chilli sauce.
There are around 4000 different varieties of chillies in the world. Assuming you use a maximum of 5 chillies per recipe that means there are 8.5 quadrillion combinations you can come up with. All this to say it’s a wide wonderful world. This doesn’t even speak to the combinations that you can make with other elements in the chilli sauce recipe. Not all chillies are created equal and you should know the flavour and level of heat that each chilli brings to the party especially when a chilli sauce is aged. Popular chillies that are readily available in Zimbabwe include Birds Eye (Piri Piri or mhiripiri), jalapeno, serrano, cayenne, habanero, Thai and Papadew.
If you’re a chilli lover you’re a great starting point but let that by no means be the only testing you do. I make chilli sauce for home consumption and what I have thought is a wonderful chilli sauce has actually been a near-death experience for other people. You need to engage in market testing. Perhaps having a small focus group of 50 people that you supply with small samples for in-depth feedback on the chilli sauce. Friends and family are great for this but you might also want to consider acquaintances and loose ties for more honest and objective feedback.
Of course, you have to create a brand. Having a great sauce isn’t enough. You need to put a name and identity on it. Food, especially niche market food like this, transcends being a culinary item but is an identity item. You have to invest in brand identity and that is more than a name and logo. What type of people is your chilli for? Bikers? People, who love to braai? Families? Trendy gen-Z kids? You need to clear about all this and it needs to be addressed in your packaging and marketing.
Packaging is important because it communicates a lot about your brand. Whacking it in a little plastic bottle works for that other big brand because they are a big brand that has been in the game a very long time. You need to find packaging that will identify with your target market while speaking about your product. Plastic or glass, it really doesn’t matter unless you want to position your brand as premium in which case glass is the only option.
As a start, you’re looking at direct selling. We have established that you will use a focus group to market test and that’s a great way to start selling the product. To expend from this you can consider online market places, roadside and pop up stores to get the chilli sauce out there. The ultimate goal for any manufacturer is retail distribution. So you should start seeking retail distribution as soon as possible. This process is not easy and you will have to have lots of conversations with lots of buyers leaving samples before you get a bite. This is the nature of the beast. Never be discouraged.
The chilli sauce business holds a lot of promise. It is a niche market with micro-niches within it so you can find your space in this market. Perfecting the recipe will be the most important thing. Consistency of the recipe is most important if customers love your recipe.