Originally sold under the Sabasco brand in Malaysia, Borneo Hot Sauce was specially repackaged and adapted for the Singapore market by distribution company The Hilltin Pte Ltd.
Its chilli sauces are made from “Momporok chilli” sourced from Kunak, the volcanic lands on southeast coast of Sabah, Malaysia. The seeds of the chilli are dispersed by local Bulbul birds and traditionally grown in the wild.
“In the past, no one really cared about Momporok chilli because they were not part of the crops that were planted by farmers. When harvested by chance, they were sold at farmers’ markets. The locals then discovered that this type of chill packs a powerful punch. It is very aromatic and rich in flavour,” Chrystella Chai, director of The Hilltin, told FoodNavigator-Asia.
For years, the chilli was used to make sauces and condiments in local eateries. It was then that Sabasco saw the opportunity to convert these sauces into commercially available products.
The firm carried out R&D to establish a more controlled environment for cultivation, recruited farmers to grow the chilli on a consistent basis, and eventually set up a factory to manufacture the bottled sauces.
In Singapore, there are currently three products under the Borneo Hot Sauce portfolio, namely Ripe Red, First Harvest Green, and Sweet Chilli Sauce. The original Sabasco Sabah Chilli Sauce has also been brought in for retail sales.
These can be found at physical stores including Ryan’s Grocery, The Dempsey Project and Meat Krafters, as well as online marketplace Shopee.
“Since our launch in September 2022, we have sold about 10,000 bottles. We are in contact with the bigger chain supermarkets like Cold Storage and FairPrice, and we hope to enter these stores within the next six months. Our goal for the next few years is to make Borneo Hot Sauce a household name in Singapore,” said Chai.
The firm is doubling down on marketing efforts to raise brand recognition, such as engaging influencers and taking part in trade shows.
“Participating in farmers’ markets and shopping events like Boutique Fairs really helps to get our name out there. At the previous Boutique Fairs, we underestimated the demand and sold out by the second day, though the event ran for four days,” she added.
A little goes a long way
According to Chai, Ripe Red and First Harvest Green are the brand’s best-sellers, with the sales volume of both being on par.
“Customers commented that a small amount of our sauces can ‘go a long way’ because the flavours are very intense. Other products in the market, such as Tabasco, have been around for such a long time that people have gotten used and ‘immune’ to the taste, so the intensity of our sauces is a refreshing change.
“What sets Borneo Hot Sauce apart is that each product has a very strong flavour. Ripe Red is a little sweeter and tamest in terms of spiciness, while First Harvest Green is more citrusy and tangier. One customer who is a chef said that our sauces reminded him of his grandmother’s recipes when he grew up in Malaysia,” Chai shared.
The brand will be rolling out a new product called Classic Extra Spicy in late March.
“The new kid on the block has none of the sweetness or tanginess. It will be a stronger and spicier version of the original chilli sauce,” she said.
Other than expanding sales channels, the firm is also working with restaurants to incorporate its sauces into menu items and stocking the bottles on shelves at the premise.
At the same time, it is looking to introduce different packaging sizes for its food-service partners.
“The factory in Malaysia will be shifting to a larger facility to scale up production capacity, so as to cope with the increasing demand. When Borneo Hot Sauce has solidified its footing in Singapore, we can look into expanding to other countries,” Chai added.