Habanero Pepper Sauce: How a Family Recipe Turned into a Thriving Business
by Karen Rollins Apr 22, 2019
Sharon Chautilal started her small family-owned business Habanero Pepper Sauce Company Limited after working in the corporate world for 18 years as an administrative manager.
Sharon wanted a better work life balance that would enable her to spend more time with her family and to pursue other personal interests. She also had a passion for home-made pepper sauce, which her mother made, and was sold at the family’s little “rum shop” in Claxton Bay Village.
Sharon had fond childhood memories of helping her mother make the pepper sauce and it was the favourite condiment with their customers to go with their appetisers.
She says: “My mom would go to the market and individually handpick the best peppers. She would then make a small batch of pepper sauce with freshly prepared ingredients resulting in a flavour that was always on point. It was also something that she loved doing and I truly believe that she channelled her positive energy and love into the product as with everything else that she put her energies into.”
The growing demand from customers, their friends and their family whom they had shared the pepper sauce with, could not be ignored.
With her mother’s blessing, and a promise to always be true to the recipe and the quality, Sharon set out to make Habanero Pepper Sauce, the first traditionally made pepper sauce to enter the market.
Just getting started
At the start of her journey, Sharon took some time away from Trinidad to develop her business plan. She drew inspiration from large companies such as John Deere, Honda, Yanmar and other food producers such as Heinz, Tabasco, Coca-Cola, and Cadbury.
She says: “I read business books from people I admired, Richard Branson, Sam Waltons of Walmart and Elon Musk. I saw no reason why a bottle of pepper sauce could not be marketed the same way, for example, as the best bottle of perfume in the world. As long as you remained true to quality, the sky is the limit.”
With the help of advertising firm, Silverpin Design Concepts, who understood her vision of wanting to ‘add flavour to life in every way possible’, they set out to design a simple but effective label that would showcase the main star of the show, the pepper sauce!
Sharon wanted the consumer to be drawn to the product itself and come up with their own relationship with the pepper sauce. She didn’t want any distraction such as a mascot, cartoon or anything too artistic to take attention away from the sauce itself. In Sharon’s words: “We are going to revolutionise the pepper sauce industry and build a strong brand”.
At the time, there was no premium pepper sauce in the local market. Sharon adds: “We were the first to introduce gift editions. It was the perfectly packaged gift to give to employees, visitors, friends and families for Christmas. Since then, we have tried to have something innovative each year and customers are excited to see what we come up with.”
Sharon also focused on developing a strong supply chain and worked with farmers on establishing good agricultural practices to consistently harvest first grade peppers for the best quality pepper sauce. Due to this synergy and commitment, Sharon has stayed true to her promise to handpick, select and sort sun-ripened peppers and only use fresh ingredients in the sauce.
Sharon explains: “We absolutely do not use any colouring, artificial preservatives such as sodium benzoate, artificial flavours or thickener. We make small batches and maintain a good positive energy while we work, always conscious of the end user.”
Plans for the future
After six years in business and many challenges, including a downturn in the economy and financial constraints, Sharon has remained fixed on her dream of making the best tasting pepper sauces possible and marketing them internationally.
She has taken some small steps in achieving her exporting goals already as the products are available on the company’s e–commerce website and orders have been shipped all over the world, including the US, South America, Europe, Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Her latest achievement has been a collaboration between Habanero Pepper Sauce and the iconic singer Calypso Rose to launch a Calypso Rose ‘Fire Fire’ Scorpion Pepper Sauce which successfully debuted at Trinidad and Tobago’s carnival in 2019.
Calypso Rose will also be performing at Coachella 2019, one of the biggest music festivals in the US, where she will be giving away some of Habanero’s products.
Sharon has also been working with New York Chef Jonathan Scinto who has appeared on the Food Network series ‘Chopped’. Habanero Pepper Sauce will be one of Chef Jonathan’s sponsors when he participates in the World Food Championship 2019 in Dallas – the largest food festival in the US.
Sharon hopes to fully leverage the expertise and assistance of the Women Empowered Through Export (WE-Xport) programme, to strengthen her marketing and export strategy and create a global presence.
WE-Xport is designed to support Caribbean women in business to start exporting or increase the exports of their products and services.
Sharon’s attitude in life is ‘you either win or learn’ and she advises other aspiring female entrepreneurs to never let fear hold them back from pursuing their dreams.
She says: “Do it scared! Fear is there to make you cautious, not stop you.”
To learn more about Habanero Pepper Sauce, visit the WE-Xport booth at the Barbados Manufacturer’s Exhibition (BMEX) in June 2019. The WE-Xport programme is an initiative of the Caribbean Export Development Agency.