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Small batches and surprising flavors: How brands sell hot sauce online

Online brands are tapping into the “gotta try them all” mantra of hot sauce enthusiasts with limited edition offerings, small batches, and unexpected flavors.

Peepal People began selling its hot sauces online in June. (Photo: Mahoor Jamal)
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Alyzeh Rizvi’s fridge is stuffed with hot sauces. This ice box includes multiple bottles of her and her husband’s favorite (Torchbearer’s Garlic Reaper), a number of recent impulse purchases, and even the couple’s own creations.

In June, Rizvi and Ahmer Zaidi launched their own hot sauce brand, Peepal People, which showcases flavor notes that are common in Pakistani cooking, but not often found in the hot sauce aisles. In this range of hot sauces, flavors such as amchoor (dried mango powder), turmeric and Kashmiri chillies abound.

“When we moved here from Pakistan, trying hot sauces was a way of exposing ourselves to different cultures, different flavors,” she explains. “What we felt is that our flavors, as Pakistanis, we couldn’t see [them] being represented in this market. We wanted to bring some diversity to the condiment market.”

Small batches, big ambitions

Rizvi says she and her husband spent two years developing their hot sauce-making skills, using chili peppers grown in their backyard and sending the sauces to friends across the U.S. to taste test. From launch day, they have only sold their hot sauces online, rather than focusing on local retail.

Peepal People is not the only hot sauce brand hoping to build a nationwide presence as soon as possible. Earlier this year, Ujjo launched its hot sauce for coffee (the world's first, the brand claims), with a Kickstarter campaign that raised $40,000, Bottle Rocket Hot Sauce, launched in 2020, borrows from the same irreverent social media playbook as brands like Not Pot and Nuggs, while direct-to-consumer truffle hot sauce brand Truff has been busy building its audience on TikTok and Snapchat.

There is a clear branding differentiation when it comes to the hot sauce brands that are focusing on the experience of buying this condiment online. Gone are the devil motifs and aggressive descriptions of painful or even stomach-wrenching heat levels that have long been the hallmarks of this category; instead, the focus here is on enticing flavor descriptions and production methods.

Peepal People’s sauces, for example, each come with their own serving suggestions, while the brand’s website boasts of fresh ingredients, zero preservatives and the small batch fermentation process the brand uses (which imparts a tangy flavor).

“We did our market research and being hot sauce enthusiasts, we saw all the illustrations and images of hell, fire and devils, and we just couldn’t relate to that,” Rizvi says.

Got to try them all

While most people may have their favorite hot sauce, true enthusiasts are often not tied down to a single brand, and instead want to experiment with all that is to offer in the world of spicy sauces. By prompting unique or limited-edition flavors, the hope is the online hot sauce brands can keep these connoisseurs interested.

On its website, Red Clay stocks a number of exclusive, online-only flavors, while U.K. brand Kold Sauce sells in limited edition batches. Peepal People says that its best-selling product is its bundles — which feature all three of the brand’s flavors — and Bottle Rocket Hot Sauce makes it easy for customers to try its range of four sauces, with an add-to-basket button on its website labelled “Give me one of each.” Meanwhile, subscription platforms like Condiment Club and Fuego Box promise consumers a continuing supply of new sauces to try.

“Hot sauce enthusiasts are people who want to try everything,” Rizvi says. “Every time I see a new hot sauce out there, I want to try it. And it’s low commitment: it’s something new I can try in a small bottle, and the shelf life of these things [is long enough] that you can try it out in different recipes or add it to different things you’re eating.”

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