Trouble Making

I have had a long-standing love affair with chilli sauce in general and am always keen to try out new brands. When I ate breakfast at a local restaurant, I tried out the sauce they had on the table, and I loved it. I have now been slathering this particular brand of chilli sauce on my eggs for a while. It is that good. When I found out it was made locally, I thought this was a story worth investigating. Among the misty blue mountains way outside Harare, there is a little hive of industry, where batch upon batch of Dr Trouble chilli sauce is being quietly and lovingly made. I chatted to Dr Trouble himself (his nickname from schooldays), Rob Fletcher.

Julie – When did you start making Dr Trouble? What made you take that initial leap of faith?

RF – It started with an old family recipe over a hundred years ago. My father and I began playing around every year with the recipe and we made the sauce in various forms for 15 years. Five years ago, friends encouraged me to make a big batch and sell it in town over Christmas. It went really well – and we received a phone call from someone in Los Angeles wanting 1000 litres. I think it was at that moment – that I knew for sure that I had something unique. The world is saturated with brands of chilli, and it’s a very tough market to break into and succeed in. I believe, though, that people are becoming much more aware of what they put in their bodies, and the fact that our product is sourced from fresh ingredients and zero artificial preservatives, sets us aside on the supermarket shelf.

Julie – Regarding your chilli crop, how big is your current acreage?

RF – We grow a small chilli crop on the farm, and also buy in chilli from GAP certified farmers with export crops. This has become necessary as international markets demand accountability on the ingredients. Every ingredient in our sauce is tested for chemical residue and must have the origin of source and traceability certificates

Julie – Sales outlets: Local, countrywide, export?

RF – We sell in Spar, PNP/TM and Food Lovers Market across Zimbabwe. We are also at Harare and Vic Falls airports, Pariah State, Supreme and Billy’s Meats, and numerous other outlets and restaurants. I wanted to establish the brand in Zimbabwe first, and get the sauce into places tourists pass through – and it has worked well – seldom a day goes by without an enquiry from somewhere in the world. We have aimed ourselves at exports from the very beginning and continue to make this our main thrust. We have sent small exports to South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, Rwanda, UK and Australia. We are very excited to be shortly supplying the UK and Ireland with our first sizeable export having found a distributer there.

Julie – Is packing and bottling done on the farm?

RF – We do everything on the farm, from field to supermarket. We have a building which we converted into a production room. We are enrolled in the BRC (British Retail Consortium) standards program, and so we follow the guidelines on health and safety and are subject to audit. We are hoping to build an ISO standard commercial kitchen this year, as we have grown too big for our humble kitchen.

Julie – Constraints and challenges of this business?

RF – The biggest challenge to the business is the Zim economy. No glass is made in Zimbabwe – and so we import from CONSOL in South Africa. Packaging is our biggest cost in production and requires foreign exchange. We’ve managed to keep our price the same since we first started in 2016 but it’s been a tough and constant battle to keep costs down.

Julie – How many varieties of sauce do you make?

RF – We have two flavours currently – the original Oak Smoked and the slightly hotter unsmoked Lemon Chilli. I do have plans for more flavours in the future – but it takes years to finalise a recipe. I’m constantly tweaking flavours and trying new things out. I consider our sauce making process akin to producing wine. Every year has a slight difference and character, and this will always be the case when using only fresh unprocessed ingredients.

Julie – How many people does the chilli side (growing, through to packing and sales) employ?

RF – The chilli company employs five people full time, and up to ten when we have chilli and lemon season.

Julie – Did you have to borrow money to finance the initial project?

RF – We have borrowed nothing to start this business and have grown organically from the beginning, only buying equipment when we could afford it from chilli sales. When you choose to grow organically, it can be slower, but it’s easier to sleep at night!

Julie – Future plans for development?

RF – We have big plans for the brand. We are going to build an export certified production facility. We have two prospective investors from overseas who want to invest in the business, so we have exciting times ahead. We are going to take the sauce to a series of food expos in Europe later in the year and see if we can’t convert more people to the “Trouble”

Image provided by Rob Fletcher

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