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THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

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PRODUCT: Russ & Frank’s BBQ Sauce

Russ And Frank's BBQ Sauce

Russ & Frank’s BBQ Sauce.

Anyone in America with an internet connection can have a blog. And anyone in America who can find a co-packer can have a barbecue sauce…or a salad dressing…or a jam. A co-packer is a manufacturer that will make your recipe to your specifications and put your label on it. It’s up to you to find the customers. To everyone with that favorite recipe who has heard the words, “Hey, this stuff is great, you ought to sell it…” there are those with the fortitude to find the co-packer, get their label on the jar and set up shop, full time or as a side job. Many think they’ll become the next Famous Amos, with little brown bags of chocolate chip cookies bringing in millions. Or the next Stonewall Kitchen. Maybe their grandmother’s jams will even net them a contract on the Food Network.

But the truth is, more people will lose money—and lots of time—on these ventures than will have positive outcomes. At least they can say they tried. And for some, having been in the game is enough. Before you’re tempted to try it, go not to your local supermarket but to the Fancy Food Show in New York or San Francisco. Walk up and down the aisles and then ask yourself, does the marketplace need another product like mine? Why will retailers be interested in buying my product instead of the dozens of lines that are here…and the hundreds of others that aren’t here?

Russ and Frank are neighbors in Des Moines, Iowa with day jobs. Friends and neighbors told them that they should sell their barbecue sauce, made from all-natural ingredients. Most certainly, it is better than what is on the local supermarket shelves. So they refined their sauce and found their co-packer. They’re one of the lucky ones (or, as Samuel Goldwyn said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get”): They’ve racked up more than a dozen awards since their line of three sauces debuted in 2003, among them, 2nd Place in the 2008 Great American BBQ Contest in Kansas City. Even a 5th Place ribbon is no small feat, given the number of sauces the judges in any competition taste. One co-packer estimates that there are probably more than 170 co-packers that make barbecue sauce alone, each of them for many clients.

We like that Russ & Frank’s uses real tomatoes as a base—not ketchup or tomato paste like so many brands do. We like that they use molasses, not just sugar, brown sugar or corn syrup, to sweeten. (They use white sugar too, the third ingredient after water and tomatoes; Russ says they tried honey, but couldn’t get a consistent taste in each batch. So they defaulted to sugar to assure customers a consistent flavor.) But would we give them an award, based on all the barbecue sauces we taste each year? No. Too sweet. While we love honey-caramelized spare ribs, we don’t like to taste white sugar on our meat. Although there are complex flavors in the blend, with each bite we also got white sugar. We know that’s what America has gotten used to (along with the HFCS that cheaper brands use), and it makes us sad.

Otherwise, we liked the “Sassy” and “Fiery” flavors, as well as the packaging. Mild, which has one its share of awards, was simply too mild for us city gals. You can buy some for yourself at

And for the two guys who have come a long, long way from their backyward grills in Des Moines: Bravo! (McIlhenny Company)

Related Food Videos: For more food videos, check out The Nibble's Food Video Collection.

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