Another exciting new local trader in the Artisan Market, Alex from Khoo’s Hot Sauce tells us about how they have built their company up around their core values, keeping the enviromental impact low but the quality high. Find them in the central Peace Gardens at #sheffoodfest18.

Five years ago, when we set up Khoo’s Hot Sauce we wanted to build a brand with integrity. We care deeply about our food and the environment and we wanted our company ethics to reflect that.  It was at this early stage that we decided to make a commitment. To source our chillies as locally as possible in order to ensure the highest quality produce while making an effort to minimise food miles.

Man holding chilli plants surrounded by chilli crop, inside polytunnel

The crop: inside the polytunnel

In our infancy, with demand for our product still very low our commitment was relatively easy to achieve. We grew the majority of the chillies we used in our sauces at home. I still chuckle looking back at the sheer amount of chilli plants we managed to fit in a small domestic greenhouse. We had plants on both sides, and pots down the middle. When it came to harvest time, we were crawling on our backs under the plants to gather them. Welcome to the jungle!

Growing all of the chillies ourselves quickly became less achievable so we enlisted the help of fellow chilli grower ‘Naga Nick’, the mind responsible for the Lucy and Katie chillies, two of Britain’s hottest strains. A keen chilli enthusiast, Nick had two huge garden greenhouses at his home in Somerset and he provided us with extra super hot varieties to add to our own supplies in order to avoid using imported chillies.

Over the first year our sauces found their way into various delis around Sheffield. We started making appearances at all the local markets and food events and the demand for our sauces grew. Our initial arrangement had worked well, but it was time to upscale our growing operation to keep up with orders. Fortunately for us this all happened around the time we were looking to buy our first house.

The polytunnel where the homegrown chilli crop is nurtured

The polytunnel where we nurture chilli crop

Our search for a house became a hunt for a home with ample land to grow our crops. In April 2014 we moved to our new base in Woodseats. The house was a rare find, with a very large garden. Part of the garden had started its life as allotment space, but had then been bought by the previous owners of the property back in the seventies. Ordinarily a garden of this size might have been sold to developers some time ago, but a combination of Tree Preservation Orders and poor access to the land meant that this urban oasis has been conserved.

For the small cost of a few crates of beer and a lifetimes supply of favours, we drafted our friends in to help us erect a commercial size polytunnel on the land, along with vegetable and flower beds. The amount of time taken building the tunnel meant that our chilli crop that year was behind schedule and ultimately pitiful in yield. We just scraped through the year with what we had, but needed to take our hottest sauce off the shelves for a few months as our supplies dwindled.

2015 was a great year for our chillies. It was also a great year for sales. We grew a bumper crop in our shiny new polytunnel, but demand had already increased to the point that we needed yet more chillies! Furthermore Naga Nick’s crop was in ‘hot’ demand from his local restaurants. Great for them, but not so much for us, as we now needed another source of UK grown chillies. We started to question the sustainability of our original commitment.

Chilli fruit on plant

Fiery chillis

At this point something rather serendipitous happened. A UK based hydroponics manufacturer posted on social media about a hydroponics outlet in Oxfordshire selling surplus chillies from their show tunnels. One email later and we were in touch with Ben Briggs, founder and owner of Plantasia, and we had secured a UK supplier to supplement the peppers we grow here in Sheffield. The quality of Ben’s chillies is exceptional and even better, each season Ben grows specific strains for our recipes.

This combination of growing our own produce and sourcing from a trusted UK grower gives us access to a quality of ingredient that is unattainable if you’re not involved in the process from farm to plate.

Our dedication to the commitment had paid off.

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