The Crucials’ Journey in a sentence – A business originally built from a plan on the back of an envelope and a journey full of excitement and unpredictability with a simple vision that was, and still is, our inspiration... Be the best at what we do.
Let’s do it!
Three of us scribbled out a business plan on the back of an envelope and said, “let’s do it”. The Crucial Sauce Company was born. The idea was to develop a wide range of sauces for the takeaway and fast food markets that represented quality and value for money, something that was missing from this particular area of food service, and where we saw an opportunity! We compromised profit to offer quality and value. These values still resonate throughout our business today where new product development isn’t given a budget so as not to compromise creativity and flavour.
Success started small
We started in a humble 1,000 sq. ft. unit, which is roughly the same floor area of a detached house. For the first 6 months we filled, capped and labelled bottles by hand. It wasn’t long before we needed to speed things up and introduced a semi-automatic filling machine.
Build it back to front
With increased manufacturing capacity we started to canvas distributors. It was harder than we thought to convert distributors from their existing brands because no one knew our brand. During a brainstorming session Gabe had a light bulb moment - instead of trying to sell to multiple distributors who were keener on focusing on bigger revenue lines, he thought let’s build a brand back to front by getting the takeaways to request the brand. This would take time but was a worthy plan. To put the plan to action we would need a large distributor that we would empower with a good profit margin whilst being competitive. Subsequently this would start winning sauce sales from other distributors, making them take notice and resulting in enquiries – that was the plan.
Gabe approached Brian, who owned a business delivering frozen foods to hundreds of takeaways, and offered him the subsidised rate to distribute the sauces along with his range of goods. Brian loved the idea saying, “It’s another product I don’t yet sell that doesn’t conflict with anything else I sell”. Brian started selling and the sales escalated and a reputation of quality and value started to develop amongst takeaways. Within 12 months distributors who were approached previously started making enquiries and listing the brand. Quite simply, the plan had paid off and Crucials started to develop sales and capture market share.
Covering the country in sauce
By 2004 we had developed a range of 11 flavours and took on a further unit for storage. Other manufactures started noticing we were growing and making a dent in the market. We virtually had Birmingham covered in sauce! Most burger vans at regional football matches were supporting Crucials; chip shops and takeaways were doing the same. Around this time it was a turning point where traders upped their game and started taking pride in the sauces they offered. It wasn’t about offering a cheap sauce, it was about offering range, quality and value. Market traders started selling Crucials at car boot sales and markets, selling an average of 500 bottles per day. The brand started to be known as “the sauce chippies use that isn’t available in shops”. Market traders were in essence brand ambassadors or marketers spreading the sauce around the country and getting the brand recognition. Sales were booming and Crucials was being sold further afield in the North East and Cumbria. This was an instrumental period in our history as it got the Brand not only into the public domain but caterers were buying it from the traders too. The distributors from these areas started to call – the back to front marketing approach had started again, but this time organically.
Up and down Motorways
In 2005 Len (one of the original three) visited a prospective customer. The customer asked him, “do you shrink wrap packs?” and Len replied, “yes” (he should have said no!). Len won the business whilst Gabe was on Holiday. Gabe got the call from Len asking, “what do you know about shrink wrap packs of sauce?” and Gabe replied, “not a lot but I can find out, why?” and Len said, “because I’ve accepted a contract and we need shrink wrapping facilities!” Gabe said we could be up and running in 12 weeks, but Len said, “we need it in 4 weeks”. The conversation came to an abrupt stop with an “oh dear”! Gabe got back from his holidays and both partners had a brainstorm. There was no other option other to than take sauces in boxes to a contract packer in Derby to shrink wrap in packs of 6 and palletise them before returning the stock to Birmingham. This was Len’s job (punishment ☺) every Wednesday for 9 weeks until the shrink wrapper arrived.
Some magic happened
In 2006 Crucials had to move. Automation was addressed at the new site. Whatever sauce we made was sold. Where was this going to end?
Aidan, one of the market traders, sold weekly at 5 markets around the country - North Weald, Black bush, Kempton, Donnington and Wellesbourne. Within 4 months his Volvo estate was too small and he bought a new Sprinter van to cope.
In 2008 some magic happened. Richard, another market trader, sold a record 2,376 bottles at Polesworth Market on spring bank holiday. After witnessing this, and reeling from shock, Gabe said, “we’re onto something big here”. The scene was set to consider retail - “let’s take the brand to the masses”, Gabe said. We launched the 500ml retail size in a 'mini me' version of our food service 1 litre and product started leaving the factory in 26 pallet loads (34,000 bottles). It wasn’t enough!
The brand started to grow in its perfect placement – the discounters, namely B&M Bargains, Poundstretcher, Heron Foods and The Range. One store referred to the brand as “retail gold”. Crucials grew 80% in 2008/09 and 72% in 2009/10. Crucials was now being seen rubbing shoulders on the same shelves as industry giants such as Heinz, HP Sauce and Branston. In 2012 Morrison’s listed Crucials. The growth created more jobs at all levels.
Help Help... This business has appetite to grow
With persistent and colossal growth, the business needed serious back up. Enter the SHS Group who acquired the business in 2013 and started to build a much needed infrastructure to take the brand to the next level. “The brand has something magical, let’s protect it”, said the new owners (click here to find out more about the SHS Group). The business now benefits from one of the highest accredited food manufacturing standards – The British Retail Consortium Standard Version 7 Double A Grade – and is also complete with a management structure that was implemented delicately so as not to impede the unique company ethos where achievements are always celebrated, “Celebrating success is perpetual... the more we celebrate success, the more success there is to celebrate” - Gabe Gabriel. Today, the brand is still growing with 25 flavours and the quirky bottle is still being celebrated across the UK – “we are more about what’s in the bottle than the packaging; in essence the bottle is a statement”.