Aiming to be the World’s Favourite Pepper Sauce: The Hot Mama’s Belize Story
by Karen Rollins May 13, 2019
Belizean Wilana Oldham and her American husband Howard met in the 1990s and after getting married in the US, he convinced her to leave Texas and return to her homeland to start their business.
He was an investor and Wilana’s family possessed a generations-old secret recipe for habanero pepper jelly. Together, they launched Hot Mama’s Belize, an agro-processing company specialising in the production of high quality, premium habanero pepper products made with fresh vegetables and without the use of artificial additives and chemicals.
However, while preparing to launch the family recipe-inspired jelly, Wilana learned about a market trend in the food industry and decided to capitalise on it.
She says: “The trend was for spicy foods, and while we moved to Belize with the intention of making the jelly, back in the US, everyone was asking us about the variety of peppers we were using.
“So, we did a little research and I ended up talking to a food broker in Miami who needed fresh peppers. We started shipments into the US and eventually into Canada.”
Health scares lead to a rethink
Within a couple of years, the Oldhams were shipping a quarter million pounds of fresh red habanero peppers out of Belize.
Unfortunately, two separate cancer scares meant Wilana had to return to the US for treatment, but after receiving the all-clear she was back in Belize with a determination to expand the business.
It was mango season, and the perfect time to get started perfecting ‘Manganero’, a long-planned spicy-sweet mango and habanero pepper sauce.
Wilana shares: “It’s a particular variety of mangoes that we use, and the sauce is so delicious. It’s one of those unique sauces that is perfect from breakfast to dessert and everything in between. You can put it on anything.”
And she really does mean anything. While the multi award-winning sauce really excels with seafood, Wilana says customers enjoy it on eggs, potatoes, rice, salads and even cheese cake.
Wilana even makes ice cream with it. She adds: “You just put it on whatever you are eating, and it just makes it that much more delicious.”
Helping the community
Hot Mama’s product line is extensive and includes gourmet sauces, gift sets, jellies and specialty items.
However, Wilana believes the company’s real success story is not about how many award-winning products they produce, or even how much money they make, but is really about the people they are able to help.
She says: “People often say to me, ‘Wilana, how come you don’t have your own pepper fields?’ And I always respond the same way, because I believe in spreading the wealth.
“If I can get one farmer in a village to grow and produce for me, it not only affects him, but his family and his neighbours who become involved, because he needs to hire people to assist with the harvesting. And so, that starts the rippling effect.”
The future for Hot Mama’s Belize
With several years of experience in manufacturing and producing fresh and finished foods, Wilana’s attention is now focused on expansion through export, including greater penetration into the US and entering European markets.
Hot Mama’s Belize will be doing this with support from the Women Empowered through Export programme designed by the Caribbean Export Development Agency to assist Caribbean women in business to start exporting or increase exports of their products and services.
Wilana explains: “Having a lab on site to do our own testing aids in improving the quality, which is further assisted by implementing Hazard Analysis Critical Control Procedures (HACCP) throughout the facility. The application has been made and approval received for Export Processing Zone (EPZ) status, which allows for the import of supplies at a reduced cost.
“This is necessary to be more competitive for the export markets.”
She adds: “It’s all falling into place now, and that’s due in part to the support we’ve received through WE-Xport.”