Chris Cullen, owner-operator of Culley’s, began selling his hot sauces at a local farmers’ market. This article describes how he expanded his small company to supply national and export markets.
Product development began as a hobby
Chris Cullen developed a taste for hot foods as a child and began experimenting with hot sauce recipes while working as a chef. Driven by this passion, he continued developing his recipes as a hobby when he moved to a corporate job. For years, Chris gave jars of his sauces away for friends and colleagues to taste.
Chris started selling small batches of his sauce after being introduced to the Clevedon Farmers’ Market by a colleague who ran a successful small business and had a stand at the market.
Culley’s products were very popular, and within a short time, customer demand for his products drove Chris to investigate the possibility of stocking a local retail store – Farro Fresh.
From farmers’ market to retail
Farro’s accepted 13 of Culley’s product range into their store. While this was a good result, Chris was suddenly faced with having to produce significantly more of his products than he had ever done before.
Chris was able to produce the quantity he needed to supply the farmers’ market by renting a commercial kitchen for a day now and again when his stocks were low. However, he couldn’t produce the quantity needed for Farro’s sustainably at that scale while still maintaining his full-time job.
At about the same time, Chris exhibited his products at The Food Show Auckland, and through the network of people there, he was introduced to The FOODBOWL.
Scaling up production at The FOODBOWL
Using The FOODBOWL facilities, Chris was able to scale up his production from 10-litre batches to 120 litres and then to 750 litres. He can now produce up to 20,000 bottles in a day compared to 200 in the commercial kitchen.
Larger scale meant more time for business
Chris could now make enough sauce in one day to fill his orders for several months. This enabled him to continue working in his day job and also spend more time on his business – meeting customers and marketing his product.
After a short time, Chris had secured enough new market opportunities with other gourmet delicatessens and supermarkets that he was able to leave his job and work full-time in his business.
Understanding the science behind his product
Producing a safe and consistent product on a large scale and meeting compliance standards in different markets requires a deeper understanding of the science behind the product and the manufacturing process.
Chris found that stepping up to larger-scale production was not as straightforward as multiplying the ingredients to make a larger batch. Specialist staff at The FOODBOWL worked alongside Chris to research and develop the scaled-up recipe. This required an understanding of the function and interaction of ingredients and how that changed at a larger scale.
To pursue new markets for his sauce, Chris also has to be able to verify its quality, safety and shelf life. He’d tested its shelf life when supplying the farmers’ market so he knew it was safe, but he couldn’t explain to customers why it was safe or how long it would last. Support from The FOODBOWL helped Chris to better understand and complete the required Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan to comply with food safety regulations. This involves identifying potential hazards throughout the production process and testing and monitoring at these critical points to ensure a safe and consistent product. For example, for Culley’s sauce, pH level and time and temperature of processing are critical points that must be checked and recorded.
Certification at The FOODBOWL gives credibility in new markets
The FOODBOWL has a reputation for stringent food safety controls and is accredited for export, so using these facilities for manufacture has given Culley’s products credibility in the market.
Having his product certified safe through The FOODBOWL and the assurance of being able to sustain large-scale production have been pivotal for Culley’s in securing contracts to supply a national supermarket chain and his first export customer.
Preparing for future growth
Chris has taken his business to another level through The FOODBOWL, and this expansion is set to continue with more overseas customers in the pipeline. Chris is now considering how best to manage increasing his production going forward – whether to pass it over to a contract manufacturer or invest in his own production facility.
Find out more about Chris Cullen’s range of products and the awards he has won for his sauces on Culley’s website.