Companies like Haute Sauce and Zafi Hot Sauce were one of the first few artisan brands making small batches of the product.
Haute Sauce was launched in November 2019, and Zafi Hot Sauce in June 2020. According to both companies, there was a gap in the market for spicy yet flavourful hot sauces in the UAE.
Haute Sauce’s founder, Ambika Rajgopal who pioneered the hot sauce trend in UAE said there were no homegrown hot sauce brands at that time, only similar products like spicy relish.
Secondly, the commercially available hot sauces in UAE’s supermarkets were mostly imported, and there was a lack of naturally produced preservative-free spicy and flavourful options.
“A good hot sauce needs to be both flavourful and spicy,” she told FoodNavigator-Asia.
Zafi Hot Sauce’s founder, Zainab Imichi Alhassan agreed. “We couldn’t find artisanal hot sauces made from Scotch Bonnet in the market. We are from Nigeria, so we eat a lot of flavourful and spicy food.
“We use Scotch Bonnet and locust beans which definitely gives our hot sauce a distinct taste. Also, our hot sauce is actually hot, so it’s the real deal for those who can handle the heat.”
Driving the trend
According to Rajgopal, it was a combination of UAE’s multicultural population and people being more conscious of what they put in their foods, that was driving the demand for artisanal products in the country.
“UAE is a melting pot of culture, with people from different parts of the world living here. Spicy food is very much part of the culture of many communities who call the UAE their home. So it’s very widely available and loved by many.
Alhassan concurred: “As the UAE population increases and more people with diversified taste buds move to the country, demand for condiments such as hot sauces will only continue to grow.
“As we can see from the number of hot sauce companies popping up, demand has definitely increased. Hot sauce is still a very young and growing market here in the UAE, but there is potential.”
In addition, people were generally becoming more self-aware of what they were consuming, with this trend primarily driven by health concerns. “People want to make sure they understand all the ingredients in their food and would prefer that it is being ethically produced,” Alhassan added.
Fresh to order
Both Haute Sauce and Zafi Hot Sauce produce in small batches.
Haute Sauce sources its ingredients from small farms internationally, including Thailand for red chilies, the Netherlands for habaneros, and North-East India for ghost chilies. Rajgopal told us she is exploring the possibility of sourcing locally.
The sauces are manufactured in a commercial kitchen in the UAE. It currently retails three SKUs on its online store for between AED 55 to 250 (110g-440g).
For Zafi, it purchases raw ingredients from markets in Dubai, and manufactures in a kitchen restaurant.
It currently retails three SKUs on its online store for AED 40 (100mL).
Both companies are focusing on their online business model.
Alhassan told us: “In the beginning we tried to sell with other retailers but we have discovered that these kind of partnerships don’t favour us as a small business. So, at this stage, we will continue to sell strictly online via our own channels.”
Because their products are made in batches, and fresh to order, there are no preservatives, hence they cannot retail on a supermarket shelf for long.
Similarly, for Haute Sauce, the plan is to remain a boutique micro-saucery, working with fresh produce, and not turning into a mass-produced brand.
Both Zafi and Haute Sauce operate out of Dubai, but ships across UAE.
For Haute Sauce, it recorded its best sales in June 2020, in the middle of the pandemic.
One obstacle faced during the COVID-19 pandemic was the price fluctuation, especially for habaneros which are a specialty goods and saw prices surged.
Rajgopal said she has also received keen interest from customers from different nationalities and also from the Gulf region including Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Sales grew quicker during specific holiday seasons such as Mother's Day, New Year's or Christmas, or when the company releases a new SKU, according to Rajgopal.
In March 2021, Haute Sauce launched its latest product, a ghost pepper hot sauce. It is set to relaunch a seasonal sauce made from mangoes and habaneros soon.
The company has also collaborated with food service partners such as Akira Back restaurant and Blacksmith Bar, featuring its hot sauce as a key ingredient.
Over at Zafi, there are no plans to expand product portfolio at the moment.
“As a small business, we really want to make sure we are not stretching our manpower and resources, so we will take things step by step unless we have an influx of financial investment,” Alhassan said.
It is however focused on improving its packaging. “We are looking to make improvements to our bottle and make it more sustainable. For example we need a new kind of seal that doesn’t use plastic material.”