In the space of ten years, the Quebec hot sauce market has gone from almost nothing to a bustle of small businesses. Several of them were propelled by the popular American show Hot Onesduring which celebrities answer difficult questions while enjoying chicken wings that are just as interesting.
On a Tuesday morning in September, aromas of oriental spices, coconut and vegetables fill the small processing plant at La Pimenterie, in Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie. The Curry Verde sauce macerates in tanks, then is pumped into a tube to be injected into glass vials moving on a conveyor. Employees must add the black cap by hand before packing them into cases of twelve.
These are intended for the United States, more precisely for the New York company Heatonist. It is this company that supplies the sauces that will burn the palates of celebrities at Hot Oneswhich has enjoyed immense success since 2015.
“They ask us for more. We are developing other products with them, which they will sell in discovery boxes to their large pool of fans,” says the chief spice maker, Julien Fréchette, sitting in his glass office with a view of the production.
In the space of seven years, this former documentary filmmaker has built a successful business, which produces every year more and more strong sauces. La Pimenterie now offers more than 20 different flavors and nearly 300,000 jars per year.
Mr. Fréchette is now targeting the French market. On the day of the visit Duty, his team launched a new product called Kumquat Crush in partnership with the Quebec YouTuber Gurky, very well known in France. “We sold all of Europe’s stock in an hour. We had over 150 orders today. Observation: Europe is waiting for us,” he concludes.
We sold all of Europe’s stock in an hour. We had over 150 orders today. Observation: Europe is waiting for us.
The chief pepper maker puts all his creativity at the service of new gourmet recipes. Some sauces age in oak barrels. He also doesn’t hesitate to travel. To create the famous Curry Verde, for example, he went to take classes in Thailand. He will soon fly to South Korea.
Ingredients from here
Despite this openness to the world, a large part of its ingredients are from Quebec. By September, piles of cans of local chili peppers were stacked in the factory. An employee was cutting poblanos for Vertigo lime-cilantro sauce.
“We processed around 12 tonnes of peppers in five weeks,” explains Julien Fréchette. Since these vegetables form the basis of its production, they must be frozen, dehydrated or fermented in the fall to be used almost all year round.
La Pimenterie’s next big objective is to buy land to grow its own fruits and vegetables and set up an agrotourism establishment. “We would have fields, greenhouses, a beautiful shop and a factory,” explains the pepper maker. The challenge is to find land that can be suitable for both agricultural and industrial uses of the company.
When Mr. Fréchette launched his business, there was very little competition in this category of products in Quebec, which has not historically been inclined towards spicy dishes. Things have gotten tougher since then.
The shop of a thousand colors
In addition to producing their own sauces with labels bearing the image of their cat, Jean-Philippe Ledoux and Valérie Day opened the specialized boutique Chez Piko, on Duluth Avenue, in Montreal. Only highlighted food products can be found on the store’s multi-colored and attractive shelves. The flavors are varied and original. Quebec companies are well represented there.
“There are at least 25 more brands since we started. Everyone starts their little company and goes to small festivals. There are plenty of artisanal products,” reports Mr. Ledoux, who formerly worked in music.
There are at least 25 more brands since we started. Everyone starts their little company and goes to small festivals. There are lots of artisanal products.
“The people are great fun in the industry, they want to do collaborations. It looks like small microbreweries,” adds the manager of Piko Peppers.
During the pandemic, the couple found time to turn their passion for hot peppers into a renowned business. Her piri piri style creation, Piko Riko, was also selected by Heatenist in 2022. The partners had sent their sample without expecting such a result. Doing only a very small production by hand, they did not have the capacity to quickly produce the thousands of bottles requested. To fulfill the order, they called on La Pimenterie.
Heat on the menu
The couple also shares a kitchen with the founder of Mark’s Hot Sauce, Montrealer Mark Cregan. Although he has been in this industry for almost ten years, Hot Ones also gave him a push forward.
“With the funds I got from all that, I moved into a new commercial kitchen that allows me to grow,” says Mr. Cregan, whose Barbados-style hot sauce took top honors.
According to Jean-Philippe Ledoux and Valérie Day, the famous show contributed to the popularity of spicy and gourmet sauces. “Everyone wants to make a Hot Ones at home, says Mr. Ledoux. And it creates a bit of an addiction, hot sauce. People come back all the time. »
Customers also like to cook and try new tastes, says Mme Day, professional tattoo artist. Mark Cregan also notes that restaurants are serving more hot sauces than before, for example with oysters and seafood.
The entrepreneurs consulted for this article are unanimous: the market is not yet saturated. There is still room for new, innovative producers who want to set the mouths of people on fire. foodies of Quebec and the planet.