Happy 5th Anniversary! Back on June 1, 2012 I wouldn't have believed you if you told me how Prickly Pig would unfold the last five years. My goal was to bottle to Prickly Pig's tangy and spicy Barbecue Sauce and share the love which we now call "The Prickly Pig Experience". As time rolled on I learned a lot about the bottling process, catering and what it takes to run a small business. My 94 year old grandma asked me if I knew in the beginning what it would take, would I do it again? I thought for a moment of all those times I spilled pork grease on the streets of Oakland, dropped and destroyed a case of freshly made sauce on the streets of Oakland and smiled at all the friends who were there to help me clean up the messes. Quietly I answered yes. Working with my friends, creating an epic product and helping folks create an enjoyable meal at home brings immeasurable joy to me. I hope everyone can taste a piece of that joy in the Prickly Pig Barbecue Sauce and Dry Rubs. To learn more about how Prickly Pig started check out this article by Kathy Gledhill at Kiva Zip Loans, they are amazing supports of local, small businesses.
"It all started with a pork sandwich." - Karen Kilkenny, Sauce Boss, Prickly Pig
When foodie Karen Kilkenny, owner of the award-winning Prickly Pig gourmet food company, hosted the first barbecue for her friends at her apartment in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, the end-result was a promising beginning. Thirteen pounds of pork BBQ and sides left her friends licking their fingers and asking “Will you make food for my party?”
Soon every special occasion became a good time to sample Karen’s BBQ which in turn led to more catering opportunities and pork sandwich samplings at pop-ups, markets, and events in San Francisco and Oakland.
"We want the sauce!" - Karen's fans
"You need to bottle that sauce!" became the mantra of Karen's friends and family. In 2014, Karen decided to really get saucy. She began bottling the specialty crafted North/South Carolina blend with special ingredients and a spicy goodness that works not only with pork, but with many other foods as well. (Karen likes to use her rubs on biscuits as well as in soups, potato salad, burgers, and vegan recipes.)
Karen worked with a graphic designer to create a signature Prickly Pig logo: a composite of an angry pig with her dog's face. She also formlated a salt-based dry rub with a garlic flair, and has gone on to add two more dry rubs to her product offerings.
A Kiva loan takes Prickly Pig to the next level ...
Karen began bottling sauce by hand, but eventually found it too labor-intensive. She funded a $5,000 Kiva loan and purchased a machine that automatically fills bottles to make them shelf-stable. With her new machine, she found she could fill twice as many jars in one fourth the amount of time. With that extra time, she marketed her sauce and got placements in 17 Northern California retailers.
"There have been many things I didn't know, so I asked friends in the food industry for help." - Karen
"There's a lot that goes into starting a food business," says Karen. "Filing for state business and health department permits...learning how to bottle sauce...whittling down the process...researching co-packers...finding out how to sell into a grocery store. It takes time. "Sometimes I didn't know where to start so I asked friends and anyone else I knew in the food industry for advice."
Karen knew that if she was going to scale her business production for national distribution she was going to need a plan.
"I had a clear idea of my go-forward plan." - Karen
Her sights were set on walking into a major grocery store and seeing her sauce on the shelf. So she did what a good organizer and planner does -- she made a list and did her homework:
Manufacture sauces and rubs that are shelf-stable, meaning they can be safely stored at room temperature.
Build the recipe for scale and ensure the products still taste the same as they do when prepared in smaller batches.
Package the products in ways that meet all regulations as well as keep branding consistent.
Apply for an FDA exemption from putting nutritional values on labels -- available to businesses based criteria like annual sales volume, or number of employees, or units sold.
Design labels for when the FDA exemption can no longer be met.
Purchase UPC codes -- expensive!
Apply for a California state food license. Find out all the on-site food facility inspection criteria ahead of time to be ready for inspection day when the state evaluator will visit the prep kitchen.
Figure out the projected financial revenue and costs to ensure sure the scaled recipes are cost effective.
Find a co-packer to mass produce sauce and rubs. There are many different pricing options to evaluate. Make sure the co-packer has a good reputation, follows all laws and regulations, and has transparent pricing.
Determine your shipping options. Also expensive. Make sure to budget adequately these costs!
Karen has lots more advice for food entrepreneurs. Stay tuned for the sequel: “Co-packing it up: Prickly Pig brings sauce to a nation of BBQ’ers”.
Get some Prickly Pig sauce and you'll be oinking at a #pricklypigout soon!
Learn more about Prickly Pig, and their versatile, yummy product line! Check out Karen's website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
If you are a funded Kiva entrepreneur, we'd love to have you share your story with us so that we can promote you too! Check out the Kiva US stories site here, and share your own story by clicking this link.
[If you haven't yet funded a Kiva loan, learn more about the benefits and application process here.]
Good Food. Good Fun. Good Company!