An Interview with Pepper Nectar Founder Rachael White
We recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Rachael White, the founder of Pepper Nectar. Pepper Nectar makes a variety of delicious and interesting hot sauces -- and just as interesting is the story behind how it all came to be. So without any further shenanigans or tomfoolery, everyone, please meet Rachael!
Can you give us a little personal background, in terms of hot sauce? I see that you were the girl who always carried hot sauce in her purse -- how did that love of hot sauce happen?
My affinity began when I ate "spicy noodles" for an entire summer when I was about seven-years old. My cousin had a new favorite lunch recipe that she made which was nothing more than chicken broth, penne noodles, black pepper, and a s**t ton of red pepper flakes. We ate it every day for lunch that whole summer... Couldn't get enough. After that summer I put red pepper flakes on everything and the older I got the more burn-dialed I became. Red pepper flakes turned into habitual use of whatever hot sauce was available. Traditional sauce turned into craft sauce and my obsession continued to grow. I was in college when I started carrying hot sauce in my bag (this was in 2002-ish). One night, a restaurant that I dined at didn't have hot sauce which wrecked me. I've carried hot sauce with me ever since.
From that point, what then led you to developing your own hot sauce recipes?
I started growing peppers in my early twenties which quickly became another obsession. My mom was an avid gardener so naturally, I fell in love with it too. Eventually, I figured out how to grow some healthy fruit and started making sauce at home. My first sauces were awful and even dangerous (thanks to fermentation—kaboom!) but after a few more tries I was making some decent sauces. I never wrote the recipes down and every sauce came out a little different but friends and family began requesting it so I started to make a little extra with every batch and threw it in a mason jar for whomever. It wasn't until I decided to start Pepper Nectar that I wrote down the recipes. My “Original” sauce is a hybrid of these sauces.
So, when was Pepper Nectar founded, and what led you to do so?
Growing up I spent a lot of time in the [Florida] Keys. The first time I stepped into Peppers of Key West I was hooked. A hot sauce emporium stocked with every available hot sauce and fiery concoction on the planet which you could then sample at their hot sauce bar before purchasing? I mean, c’mon! A dangerous store for this girl and the catalyst behind the dream to one day sell my very own hot sauce. I wanted to be on that shelf.
Life carried on. I graduated with a degree in Marketing/Advertising and fell into a career path in this field. Hot sauce was still always a dream. Then, in 2007 I created a business plan for “The Beautiful Pepper” which was a similar concept to Peppers of Key West just trendier and more current for the time but the recession of 2008 put that plan to rest.
Fast forward almost ten years to when my mother unexpectedly passed away. She and I were best friends (I was her world and she was mine) so it was a very devastating time. A week before she passed I was able to tell her news that she had been waiting to hear FOR-EVER... I was going to have a baby. Eight months after I lost my mom my husband and I welcomed the most incredible little boy into the world.
When maternity leave was coming to an end I was left with a big decision; do I sell my soul and go back to the full benefits marketing job that I was good at and worked extremely hard to establish the last fifteen’ish years or do I take the leap into the world of hot sauce again? I was terrified.
I couldn’t pick up the phone and ask mom for her advice so I mulled over what she’d have told me to do. She hated my job more than I did and just wanted me to be happy—the simplest of concepts that, prior to her death, I always dismissed as if it were some form of fiction. It was now loud and clear so I made a promise to her that I’d follow her wish and I did. I left marketing, mapped out a new “plan”, and the minute I came up with the brand name I got to work. Pepper Nectar was incorporated on February 12th, 2019.
Do you have a mission statement for Pepper Nectar, either formal or informal?
My personal mission is to make my mom and son proud. My brand mission is to craft mindful products that deliver a fresh experience with the perfect balance of heat and flavor.
What is your ideal for the future of the company? Do you want to be small and artisanal, or do you want to be on the shelves of every Publix, Safeway, and Wegmans in the country?
To make a decent profit in this industry you have to go big; otherwise you just end up with a very expensive hobby. This doesn’t mean you have to give up being a craft or artisanal brand, though. We’re in this era where a huge and growing consumer segment is actively looking for quality over quantity in the products they buy. They’re happy to spend a premium as long as it fits their values. This evolution is making the production of artisan goods no longer cost-prohibitive so a huge plus for makers like me.
That said, I do intend to stay artisanal, which can still be done at high volumes. I don’t foresee myself on the shelves of Publix, Safeway, or the like unless they start migrating more towards the natural/whole-foods market. I use a ton of whole ingredients which is expensive so getting my cost down to compete with a $3-$4 bottle of hot sauce means compromising my ingredients which I’m not willing to do. However, retailers like Whole Foods, Fresh Market, Trader Joes… that cater to the natural food audience is the prize. Ideally, this is where I dream to one day be in addition to all of the incredible mom-and-pop/independent retailers, restaurants, and e-comm sites that I’m with now.
Do you have a favorite from among your own products?
I’ve been on a microwaveable burrito kick lately simply out of convenience which I soak in my Original sauce. It may be my favorite right now but at the end of the day they’re all my babies and I love them all equally. I consume a lot of my product. Most people have beer or wine bottles in the recycle bin but not this lady!
The Duke hot sauce you make features the Urfa Biber pepper, which is fairly unusual in hot sauce recipes. What led you to that particular pepper, and what about it made you want to use it in a hot sauce?
Urfa Biber (pronounced orr-fuh be-burr and also known as Isot) is a Turkish pepper from the Urfa Province of Turkey (biber is Turkish for “pepper”) that I first discovered after my grandmother brought some back from a trip she took to Istanbul. The Turkish use Urfa like American’s use black pepper and is sweet and mild like a serrano. You can eat the Urfa pepper raw or cooked but when dried and crushed into flake form takes on an entirely different flavor profile—it’s sublime. Notes of raisin, chocolate, sour lemon, and a smokiness that resembles sweet tobacco leaf that is truly unique to this pepper. Anyhow, my love for Urfa was born and seldom did I ever see it after my first introduction so when I scrolled past seeds for the Urfa pepper one day on the web (which was highly unusual) I had a holy s**t moment. I knew I’d make a second sauce but now I knew the star.
We don't want you to give away any trade secrets, of course, but can we look forward to any new varieties or products from Pepper Nectar in the future?
Since heat is a pain reaction and everybody experiences pain differently my goal is to create a product line that caters to every stop along the spectrum. I have a 3, 4, and 7 in terms of heat so there are definitely holes to fill. My next is going to be hot AF.
Tell us something about either Pepper Nectar or a particular hot sauce that we haven't thought to ask!
Hmm… I use red jalapenos in my OG sauce. People often times have no clue that the green jalapeno they're accustomed to seeing is an immature pepper. When fully matured they turn red and become hotter and sweeter and take on a more earthy flavor.
How can people find Pepper Nectar, in terms of your website and social media accounts?
You can find us online at peppernectarhotsauce.com, follow us @peppernectar, or stop into any one of our retail partners which are listed on our website.