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THE MAKER OF JAMAICA'S WORLD-FAMOUS
ENTERS ITS SECOND CENTURY OF TANTALIZING TASTEBUDS EVERYWHERE
By Lisa A. Bastian, TropicsLifestyle.com
WAY UP IN COOL, FORESTED
hills nestled in the middle of Jamaica, one of the most obscure but gastronomically important factories in the world operates against a backdrop of lush, panoramic views.
From the nation's capital city of Kingston, it's about a two-hour drive West on a winding, rural highway to get to this place; the quiet little community of Shooters Hill, best known as home of the
Pickapeppa Company Ltd
Colorful and fragrant tropical flowers blooming everywhere greet visitors upon their arrival at the manufacturing facility.
But a more delightful sensory experience is delivered by the intoxicating aromas of vinegar and onions, dominating the air within a hundred yards all around, infiltrating the clothing and hair of anyone close enough to catch a whiff.
For true Pepperheads, this
is hallowed ground
The smells, of course, emanate from inside, where 50 copper pots constantly cook bubbling brews of all-natural ingredients. Here teams of employee-artisans are busy at work producing a variety of tropical marinades. The most famous is
; the sweet, tangy and extremely mild Caribbean condiment beloved by millions of people.
And that, my friends, is why for true Pepperheads, this is
The company making the original
celebrated its 100th birthday on June 1, 2021. The other four "sister" flavors are:
Hot Pepper Sauce
Gingery Mango Sauce
Spicy Mango Sauce
Hot Mango Sauce
In the USA consumers can find Pickapeppa products nationwide at these major stores, and websites such as
WHY IS PICKAPEPPA SAUCE SO LEGENDARY?
Fondly nicknamed "Jamaican ketchup," the sauce is a staple in every home cupboard and eatery on the island, and for good reason.
Jamaicans recognized early on what millions of people everywhere now know; that this tasty sauce adds a super-unique flavor to meats, veggies, dips and marinades to diverse cuisines.
A perfect mix of 16 ingredients has created a global taste sensation made of real food that's all-natural, vegan, and gluten-free.
The main players are cane vinegar, onions, tomato paste, mangos, raisins, Jamaican-grown West Indian Red Peppers and orange peel; ginger, cloves, thyme and other spices; plus a few secret ingredients known only by the company's owners.
Even agent James Bond would have a hard time procuring the coveted recipe, hidden away in a locked safe. Although many people have tried to copy it, as of yet, no one has succeeded.
The secret recipe
has 16 ingredients
But wait, there's another key production factor that makes Pickapeppa Sauce so extraordinary. Before it's bottled and sold, the product is aged at least 12 months in the same oak barrels that once aged Jack Daniels, the internationally acclaimed Tennessee whiskey.
Specifically, another company buys these 53-gallon, 35-inch-tall, 126-pound wooden casks from the whiskey maker. After they're sold to the Pickapeppa Co., the barrels are fitted with spigots, filled with sauce, placed on racks in the warehouse, and turned periodically on scheduled dates to enhance flavor and color.
A team of food scientists and other techies who babysit the casks throughout the year periodically test batches to ensure they meet strict quality and safety standards.
Before bottled and sold, Pickapeppa Sauce is aged for at least a year in oak barrels that once aged whiskey such as Jack Daniels. This aging process and proprietary blend of ingredients is the secret to the product's unique flavoring and success.
How Does It TASTE
To find out if Pickapeppa Sauce belongs in your life, simply buy a bottle (average retail price: $4 to $6) and taste-test it yourself. In the meantime, read a few foodie reviews to whet your appetite.
gives the sauce a glowing five-star rating. It's described as “a nearly strange combination of
fruits, vegetables, and spices
....The flavor you pick up first and foremost is cloves and sugar. This semi-sweet burst is followed up by the tart taste of cane vinegar and ginger, mixed with fresh-tasting tomatoes, onions and peppers.
"To finish off this
puzzle of flavor
, you faintly pick up a mild amount of heat and then an orange zest aftertaste. Obviously this sauce is
It is not the sauce you want to add to just any and every dish. But, if you want to upgrade from your A1 or Heinz 57 steak sauce, Pickapeppa is the perfect choice. Grilled meats and roasts, would complement this sauce best."
The review ends almost poetically by talking about the sauce's fragrance: "The strong, sweet-smelling cloves pop, the pungent
zing of peppers
jump out at your nose, and the smell of sea salt drifts you to the ocean. Overall, Pickapeppa, is a top-notch sauce.”
The zing of peppers jump
out at your nose
opines that Pickapeppa Sauce is "chock-full of sweet, tangy flavor with more depth fueled by exotic Jamaican flavors. This is a super-mild sauce that everyone can enjoy. And it makes an exceptional seafood sauce."
Leave it to foodie magazine
to describe Pickapeppa Sauce as if it were a fine wine: “To open a bottle is to get an immediate perfume of cane vinegar and cloves, followed by a bit of onion and a hint of thyme. Its acidity comes through first, like a gentle burn at the back of the throat, then the spices kick in for a layered finish without any heat.”
As indicated by its name, the recipe for "The Big Easy" appetizer
is super simple! Just place an 8-oz. block of cream cheese on a dish, pour a generous amount of Pickapeppa Sauce over it, then use a knife to spread the cheese onto crackers. The same sauce makes it a breeze to make
Basic Jerk Chicken
Pickapeppa recipes are published in this issue's
BRIEF PICKAPEPPA HISTORY
Pickapeppa Co. just celebrated its milestone
on June 1, 2021. And all signs indicate this private business is already poised to do even better in its second century.
But how, you may wonder, did this success story begin?
To find out, let's go back to the a few years before the start of the Great Depression. Sixteen-year-old
of Manchester, Jamaica, was enjoying his hobby of cooking in his family's humble home kitchen.
By sheer luck, and after lots of experimentation, this was the day everything changed. The young lad (with no formal cooking training) trusted what his tastebuds were telling him. While stirring a pot filled with the aromatic, complex concoction featuring regional West Indian Jamaican red peppers, he knew he had created a very unusual and amazing new sauce.
An excited and proud Nash shared his delicious discovery with family and friends, who also loved it. A
tropical condiment star
Nash established the Pickapeppa Company Ltd. in 1921 and named his culinary creation Pickapeppa Sauce. Jamaican artist Stella Shaw (his cousin) painted the company's iconic parrot-and-pepper logo.
His cousin painted the iconic parrot logo
It didn't take long for folks everywhere on the Island to appreciate the versatile brown sauce and start using it in all kinds of dishes. For the first few decades the product was made in small batches, and mainly sold through local grocery stores.
Twenty-four years later in 1945, the entire business was sold to
Joseph Lyn Kee Chow
. A first-generation Jamaican, he immediately got busy and established the original (and still operating) commercial operations at Shooters Hill, Manchester.
Pickapeppa Co. remains a business owned and operated by the Lyn Kee Chow family. Three brothers representing its second generation are now in charge, with
Stephen Lyn Kee Chow
serving as the current CEO.
While the family is Chinese by heritage, they are not “seen” as Asians per se, in this opening, pluralistic country with a
Out of Many, One people.
"To the people here, it doesn’t matter what you look like," explains
a business advisor and friend to the company. "If you live here, then you’re Jamaican; that’s a very important social construct."
While succession plans are not publicly known, it could be postulated that some younger members of the third generation may step up as future leaders of this family dynasty.
(Left to Right)
Pickapeppa fans can purchase branded T-shirts, cooking aprons, ballcaps and napkins, as well as all the company's products, at www.Pickapeppa.com.
GENERATIONs OF LOYAL WORKERS
In the early days the factory's rooms buzzed with activity from a small cadre of workers, including some of the founder's family members.
Today, the Pickapeppa Co. is an economic driver in the region. It hires only "the cream of the crop" from the region to ensure long-held standards of excellence are maintained. In other words, "only the best can make the best."
The 40 factory employees are known to show great loyalty to both the company and its owners. There's a real sense of community here, and the company cares for its workers as if they were family.
Tasty meals cooked up daily in the employee kitchen are free, as are the crisp uniforms everyone wears. For some workers living in very modest abodes, the access onsite showers with clean, abundant water is a life-changing work benefit.
Not surprisingly Pickapeppa jobs tend to become lifetime employments, with some spanning decades. Recently a man who began employment here in his youth retired in his mid-nineties. Many people are second-generation workers, following in the footsteps of their older relatives.
Jobs tend to be lifetime employments
Since the 1940's the plant has undergone countless upgrades on various levels. With a hyper-focus on food safety and quality, in recent years the company invested heavily in the factory's infastructure, and made major improvements to processes affecting all areas of the business.
Just a few years ago the packing and bottling of product was done by hand; now machines do that work. However, the making of Pickapeppa products will forever be an artisan activity. For example, the peeling of onions and stirring of ingredients in huge copper pots are two of many specialized tasks requiring a "human touch" to perfect a process.
All those expensive transformations paid off handsomely in 2018, when Pickapeppa Co. announced its manufacturing facility was now one of a handful of Jamaican companies to have achieved the internationally recognized Food Safety System Certification FSSC 22000.
This recognition placed the brand in the relatively small pool of 17,000 companies worldwide that had achieved similar honors. More importantly, the business was now positioned better than ever for greater expansion opportunities in the U.S. and other competitive export markets.
Throughout its history Pickapeppa Co. has won numerous international awards, and was the first business in Jamaica to be awarded the
Monde Selection Gold Medal with Palm Leaf
. This annual honor is bestowed by the Belgium-based International Quality Institute, which tests and recognizes the world's best-quality food, drinks and cosmetics products.
In 2018, Pickapeppa Co. announced its manufacturing facility had been awarded a prestigious global food safety certifcation. This recognition placed the brand in the relatively small pool of 17,000 companies worldwide that had achieved similar honors, and opened the door wider for greater expansion into competitive export markets.
FIVE UNIQUE SAUCES
For over a century, the company has been able to maintain the original distinctive taste, flavor and quality of
due to an adherence to extremely high production standards.
Those same standards are applied to the making of its four other sauce products as well.
The oldest is the
Hot Pepper Sauce
(similar in taste to sauces made from Tabasco peppers) which has been around almost as long as Pickapeppa Sauce.
Both products are the only ones decanted into oak aging barrels. However,
unlike the no-heat Pickapeppa Sauce, this fiery condiment is aged for up to
(not one) to develop its complex flavors, aromas, spicy overtones, and natural rich-red color. That's the good news. The bad news is that these additional two years of aging makes it only available in limited quantities.
So what does Hot Pepper Sauce taste like? Fans say it packs a good heat punch that gets in your throat ~ and then surprisingly keeps on releasing
longer than you'd expect. Ingredients are: West Indian Red Peppers, unrefined cane sugar, water, vinegar, sea salt, garlic, the natural tropical seed-derived dye Annatto (E160b), and pimento.
It gets into your throat and keeps releasing heat
About 10 years ago the company added three more sauces to the brand family. They predominately feature the sweet flavor of the
fruit, which expresses the combined taste of pineapples, oranges and peaches.
Interestingly, the recipes for these sauces were purchased by Pickapeppa Co. from a local second-generation Jamaican family who (similar to founder Nash's story) made very small quantities of the condiments in a home kitchen.
It took about three years, and a substantial investment, for the company to perfect the three formulas and incorporate them into its larger-scale production processes. Today, the mango sauces are very popular and in great demand worldwide.
The most-purchased of the trio,
Spicy Mango Sauce,
is smooth, richly flavored and full-bodied. It features a mild spiciness from locally grown red peppers with added sweetness from cane sugar.
Gingery Mango Sauce
is superbly zingy, and gains its distinct character from Jamaican ginger, the finest in the world.
Hot Mango Sauce
is smooth on the palate, offers subtle hints of ginger and garlic, and uses ground Jamaican red pepper seeds to deliver a controlled heat with a little extra bite.
Pickapeppa makes three sauces featuring the sweet flavor of mango, which expresses the combined taste of pineapples, oranges and peaches.
Photo of various types of mangos.
your pickapeppa IMPORTER
If you're addicted to Pickapeppa sauces and am grateful for the steady supply entering America, you can thank one company:
Warbac Sales Co, LLC.
This Louisiana-based company has always been the primary importer for Pickapeppa. Today, this woman-owned and operated business imports about
of Pickapeppa's products into the United States.
Once or twice a month, about 44,000 pounds of these tropical treats leave Kingston, Jamaica, and enter America via the Port of New Orleans, Louisiana. Warbac Sales then moves them to its local warehouse, where they await distribution orders to other U.S. regions.
Typically each shipment contains 5,000 cases of bottled sauce, with 12 five-ounce bottles in each case. Sometimes there will be gallons of the sauce. The contents of each shipment vary, and are different depending on availability of supply, what has been ordered, any special promotions going on, etc.
While Warbac Sales is not an owner of Pickapeppa, it does play a vital role as a long-term, valued partner and advisory board member.
President and owner
Cheryl Grevemberg says
"it feels almost like we're one and the same company" due to their strong bond and shared growth vision.
The two businesses began their relationship over four decades ago. Back then one of the many importers of Pickapeppa decided to retire, and was looking for someone to buy the rights to his sales territory in the nation's mid-section.
, became the new buyer and founded Warbac Sales to run his new endeavor. In 1982 he began importing tons of Pickapeppa's goods into New Orleans. The original and hot pepper sauces already had become a vital part of that city’s cuisine, complimenting the traditional spices used in Cajun and Creole cooking. "For decades New Orleans has been the largest market in the world for Pickapeppa," notes Cheryl. "We all grew up with it."
Cheryl runs the day-to-day operations of Warbac Sales with help from family members, including the company's co-owner, her brother Warren Backer, Jr. "It’s a great job, and can be a lot of fun," she says, even during these days of economic uncertainty.
"If you look at the dynamics of the Pickapeppa product cycle it's an unassuming brand, but for some reason it’s still here after a hundred years," notes Vaughan of Pickapeppa. "A big reason for that comes down to people like Cheryl and her father before her, selling our sauces in the USA, our largest market. We never would have charted such spectacular sales without them."
In 2017, Jamaica's economic development agency (#DoBizJA) showcased Pickapeppa Co. Ltd. in two-minute videos
(above and below).
part of the government's "From Farm to Shelf" series promoting the Island as an ideal place to do business by highlighting successful local companies.
THRIVING DURING THE PANDEMIC
Like many other businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Pickapeppa Co. at different times, for different reasons.
At one point Cheryl recalls "it was really tough" sourcing the raw materials for products. That obviously impacted production as the company imports almost every ingredient ~ except for the peppers ~ from seven different countries through the Port of Kingston.
Another short-term problem arose when glue could not be found to adhere labels to bottles. Then there was the time glass sauce bottles were temporarily hard to procure due to COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers alledegly needing so much glass to make their vials.
Despite these challenges, "Pickapeppa's business has been booming since the start of the pandemic," notes Cheryl. "We've been filling a
amount of new orders from grocery stores, and consumers buying from our website."
Dianna Tomlinson shares
her theory about what led to the sales spike:
"Due to the pandemic, people worldwide started making more of their own gourmet dishes at home, rather than rely on chefs in restaurants for these meals." The ensuing search for tantalizing and affordable flavorings led many consumers to the brand as new or returning customers.
Even as people warily start returning to restaurants and cook a bit less at home, this positive sales trend is expected to continue. Dianna says Pickapeppa's current challenge is to keep finding ways for its factory to stay abreast of skyrocketing demand.
Extremely hot West Indian Red Peppers scorch mouths with a high heat rating of 100,000 to 450,000 Scoville units. They are locally sourced, and the key ingredient in both the Hot Pepper Sauce and the very mild Pickapeppa Sauce. (Photo credit:
, an online marketplace to buy and sell Caribbean products.)
a family tradition OF HELPING NEIGHBORS
Any pandemic-related "bumps” in product production have been largely resolved at Pickapeppa's factory. However, Jamaicans as a whole are still feeling the impact of COVID-19 on their economy and quality of life.
Alongside government and other private-sector relief strategies, the Pickapeppa Co. continues its decades-old commitment of helping its neighbors on the Island. "The family is very philanthropic; they're very generous people," says Cheryl.
One major gift was the donation of three acres of land and buildings to
Gift of Hope Orphanage
which cares for over 20 children with special needs. It's one of many programs administered by locally based
Mustard Seed Communities.
The Pickapeppa family quietly supports a wide range of community programs
While details about many of the owners' charitable efforts are kept private, ongoing recipients of support are known to include Mother Theresa's Missionaries of Charity and the Missionaries for the Poor (both operate Jamaican missions); as well as hospitals and schools serving the Island's poorest people.
Members of Pickapeppa's management also have made time to share their business expertise with a number of start-up enterprises seeking a similar path of corporate success.
Relatedly, in June 2020 Jamaica’s Ministry of National Security announced it had received Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) worth over
$2 million dollars
from the nation’s Chinese community to assist frontline workers during the pandemic.
“The donation is a
token of our love
for Jamaica,” said Pickapeppa's CEO Stephen Lyn Kee Chow, a representative of the Chinese community. This gift of PPE is on top of the care packages and jobs that same group of individuals give their fellow Jamaicans in need on a continual basis.
(Left to right)
Pickapeppa donated three acres of land and buildings for
Gift of Hope Orphanage
, which cares for over 20 children with special needs. The company has a long history of giving back to the community.
A BRIGHT SECOND CENTURY
Pickapeppa Co. has identified another emerging trend contributing to a lot more wholesale orders for larger-sized containers of products. It's becoming a new market that continues to grow.
Vaughan explains that recently a number of food and ingredient manufacturers have begun incorporating Pickapeppa sauces into their food offerings. Doing this not only creates unique flavor profiles, but also helps the companies win and retain business in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
"Sometimes our products are not identified as anything but 'secret ingredients' on menus or listings," he says, citing multiple examples of established and "newbie" fast-food chains covertly using Pickapeppa to enhance meat burgers, vegan burgers, sandwiches and other products.
in the world!
Looking to the future, Pickapeppa has entered its second century of existence as a strong contender in a competitive industry.
Like many businesses, Pickapeppa is constantly searching for new products to add to its collection of offerings. However, in the past 101 years, only five sauces have been deemed worthy to be part of the Pickapeppa brand. Based on that track record, realistically it could take several years, even decades, to find the next "perfect fit" recipes.
Whatever those new mystery sauces taste like, Dianna already knows they'll all be "premium quality, unique products made with only the finest ingredients."
This distinction is very important, she emphasizes, as while there may be "thousands of food manufacturers, there's
Pickapeppa in the world!
Lisa Bastian, publisher of Tropics Lifestyle magazine, discovered the original Pickapeppa Sauce in November 1983 when honeymooning with her husband Ed in the Grand Cayman Islands. This delectable condiment added zing to the Conch Fritters and (real) Donkey Tail foods enjoyed during a lunch prepared by a local cook.
Lisa credits herself as the foodie introducing Pickapeppa Sauce broadly to northern Cincinnati as, upon her return home, she begged the neighborhood Kroger grocery store to start carrying the product (they did). The condiment remains a beloved staple in the Bastian household.
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