Industry: Food & Beverage
Founder Justin Chinchen introduced his rebellious sauces with one recipe, 12 cases of empty bottles, a $3,000 tax return, and the memory of a friend.
A lot can change in a decade. Nine years ago, Chinchen was living on a 10-acre ranch in California, renting a room from "Stan the Man Walder." Per his rental agreement, Chinchen cooked for the Walder family weekly, usually ribs, smothered in an unforgettable whiskey-cherry BBQ sauce.
When Walder told Chinchen to bottle his sauce, the chef says he "started trying to figure it out, but nobody in California could help." In 2010 Chinchen moved to Denver, "the hotbed for startup food," he says. Just before Chinchen skipped town, though, Walder suffered a stroke and passed away.
"He was instrumental in my life," Chinchen says. Hence, when he revived the idea of manufacturing sauces in Denver, his sensei became the inspiration for Redlaw, Walder spelled backwards and the punch line of a running joke on the Walder family farm.
Since inception Redlaw has experienced 100 percent year-over-year growth. The secret to success is in the sauce -- literally. "It comes down to how it's made, and what type of ingredients we use," says Chinchen.
Most shelf-stable BBQ sauces are reduced from ketchup and dried spices. An outlaw at heart, Chinchen opted for fresh ingredients and was determined to sweeten them with dried fruits instead of sugar.
Whether you're sampling the company's signature Whisky & Sweet Cherry BBQ Sauce or its spicier Blueberry Ghost Pepper varietal, each of Redlaw's four BBQ sauces has a "special combination you don't usually see in the industry," says Chinchen. "There's a lot of peach habanero and mango this-or-that," he adds. "I wanted to create something out of the ordinary."
Mission accomplished. Better ingredients might cost more, but consumer demand makes the model sustainable. "Right now we're trending in the neighborhood of 5,000 units a month," Chinchen says. He sells his sauce at regional Whole Foods Markets, Safeway, and Albertsons, plus about 50 local mom-and-pop shops, including Edwards Meats and A Touch of Colorado.
Filling and labeling have been automated since Redlaw relocated from a commissary in Arvada to its 9,000-square-foot plant in Golden. But production still has plenty of hands-on components: Ingredients arrive fresh, for example, and are manually broken down, cleaned, and prepped. Bottles are hand-capped, and Chinchen cooks his sauce in smaller, 60-gallon steam-jacketed kettles to preserve a small-batch taste profile.
A year into production, Redlaw added hot sauce to its repertoire when Chinchen noticed a gap in one of the fastest growing industries in America. "There are plenty of reds. I saw a market for green hot sauce," Chinchen explains.
He makes two varieties of Serrano Scorpion Hot Sauce, one of Redlaw's bestsellers. "For the chiliheads I also have a third, super-hot red sauce, Trinidad Scorpion, which is made with one of the three hottest peppers on record," adds Chinchen. Three years ago he augmented his brand further, with Kiwi Lemongrass Teriyaki Sauce.
In summer 2016, he started canning organic produce from local farms under the Garden Treasures brand; about 3,000 jars of pickled beets and cucumbers will be available in local Whole Foods Markets later this month.
Co-packing is also driving growth. Redlaw manufactures for 70 clients in his plant, which started as a 4,500-square-foot factory and doubled in size in late 2016 when Chinchen expanded into the building next door. Nut butters are Chinchen's bread and butter, and currently account for 40 percent of his co-packing business. "We're really the only nut butter co-packer in Colorado," he says, noting that most operate in California.
Chinchen produces sauces for his clients, too, and specializes in "high-end products with special needs," as he puts it, or, those manufacturers that large-scale co-packers can't adequately accommodate.
Challenges: Marketing its co-packing services is this company's biggest challenge, but one Chinchen is tackling head-on. "I'm the artist," he says. "Business doesn't come easy."
Opportunities: Building a unique brand has been gratifying, but Chinchen says, "Co-packing is where our company is headed." A full 95 percent of his clients are Colorado-based, and the entrepreneur wants to remain a small co-packer geared toward startups. With that model in mind, he's looking to expand into other states across the country in order to service new markets on the same local level.
Needs: Chinchen is searching for avenues to bring in more automation, without having to finance. "Equipment is expensive," he says. "We can try to hand-pack all day long, but we'll need equipment to be the most efficient."