“Heinz Tomato Ketchup is great and the company has done great things,” but it also has become such a dominate force in the market that most Americans no longer know that the vinegar and spices – not the tomato – are what define ketchup, says Kori Wallace, who co-founded ’Chups with her husband Matt Wallace in 2014.
Nor do most Americans realize the full potential of ketchup beyond a topping for burgers, fries and other basic comfort foods, she said.
’Chups wants to change that by making a full line-up of gourmet sauces and dips based not on tomatoes, but rather cherries, blueberries, cranberries, mangos, plums, pineapples and even pumpkin.
“Ketchup hasn’t seen evolution” for more than 100 years, and by bringing the condiment back to its diversified fruit-based culinary tradition, ’Chups hopes to “elevate the condiment” beyond a topping for a small select set of foods, Wallace said.
“’Chups is a game changer for ketchup” that can be used as a glaze for roasted meats, a sauce for tacos, dressing for salad and, of course, a topping for hamburgers, hot dogs and other sandwiches, she said.
As if revolutionizing ketchup was not an ambitious enough goal, Wallace added that ’Chups also wants to make its fruit-based sauces and dips as ubiquitous as Heinz Tomato Ketchup in three to five years.
“Our goal is to get national awareness so that in three to five years we don’t have to explain the concept of fruit ketchup because it will just be on the table next to tomato ketchup and people can choose what they want,” she said.
Partnerships to promote the sauce
One way ’Chups is working to achieve that goal is by partnering with chefs at local restaurants who want to offer a different taste experience, but who don’t want to make their own house ketchup, Wallace said.
“The most success that we’ve seen is with partnering with restaurants and giving them a free gallon of ’Chups in exchange for running a promotion on their menu,” such as a special hot dog for the 4th of July, Wallace said.
She acknowledged that because ’Chups is still small it can’t afford to give away a lot of product, but as it grows it hopes to partner with cafeterias and burger joints to offer its fruit ketchups in pumps or sachets so that more consumers can try and learn about it. And, Wallace added, hopefully buy more of it at the store to use in their homes.
Currently, the condiments are sold primarily in smaller specialty stores, gift shops and organic markets “where people care about their ingredients” and will appreciate that ’Chups does not use high fructose corn syrup but rather lets the natural sugar in the fruit and a touch of agave sweeten the sauce.
The young company also is in several area Whole Foods Markets, which can be a gateway for national distribution for many brands.
While off to a strong start, Wallace knows the company must address several challenges that currently hinder the company’s growth.
First is its packaging, which is environmentally friendly and elegant, often confuses consumers and suggests they should use the sauce sparingly rather than slather it on food.
Wallace explains that the ketchups currently use 8-ounce glass jars that resemble those of premium jellies and jams.
“The jelly jar adds to the confusion about what a fruit ketchup is,” and whether it should be used as a sweet or savory topping, she said. (The answer is savory.)
To address this, ’Chups is exploring using a 12-ounce jar and one day hopes to be in a squeeze container, which currently isn’t possible due to manufacturing restrictions, Wallace said. She also wants to put the product in sachets for on-the-go use.
Another challenge is poor consumer awareness, which many new companies face. ’Chups is addressing it through in store demonstrations and promotions at restaurants.
“Being first to market, it is on our shoulders to educate people about what the product is and how to use it,” Wallace said, adding: “’Chups fills a need or gap in the market, but it is a need most people don’t know they have until you show them.”
Finally, the start-up shares a slew of challenges that all newcomers to the CPG food and beverage industry face, including basics such as regulatory compliance, access to manufacturing equipment, supply chain management and distribution.
For help in these areas, ’Chups turned to food incubator Union Kitchen in Washington, DC.
“Union Kitchen has been really great. They were a game changer for us and helped us go from messing around with the idea of making ’Chups and giving it to friends, to actually selling the product,” Wallace said. “Union Kitchen was the reason we took it to the next level and became a real business.”