With spring temperatures that seem a little reluctant to arrive, I’ve made the choice to bring the heat in a slightly different fashion today. Meet Amiel LeBlanc, the creator of the Maritime’s favorite hot sauces and spice rubs, and his company, Maritime Madness.
Growing and sourcing local products where available, and blending sauces and rubs that have Maritime flair, Amiel has gained a solid following for his products. Read on for more about his business began, and how it continues to expand.
I started Maritime Madness in 2002 with 3 hot sauces that I sold strictly at craft shows. In 2008 I started wholesaling with about 12 stores, and today we have over 200 stores across Canada. We also sell online and in our retail shop in Montague, which is in the front of our production space. We designed this to be open concept so you can see what we are up to from the cooking stage to packing and shipping.
You don’t just make the sauces and rubs that you sell, but you also grow many of your own peppers as well. What percentage of produce are you able to grow yourself?
I’m very passionate about the farming end of the business, but growing extra hot peppers in Eastern Canada is a real challenge. We go through around 10,000 pounds of fresh peppers per year – the year before last, we grew 15% of that, and in 2015 we managed to get it up to 25%. My goal is to get to 50% in the next couple years.
Atlantic Canada has so many amazing small producers, and I love the way our local producers often try to incorporate ingredients from other local producers. Can you tell us about some of the local ingredients you have been able to source and use in your own products.
Our sauces are mostly fresh peppers and vinegar, simple ingredients. Since there are few (if any) hot pepper growers that produce the quantities we need in the Maritimes, we are working on building relationships with local farmers in two ways. One is approaching farmers that don’t currently produce peppers but are great at what they do – this year we are working with someone in Belfast, PEI that is planting 4,000 Scotch Bonnet plants for us. Another is working with smaller growers that are interested in growing smaller amounts of unusual and specialized peppers for limited edition sauces. There is a Farmer in NB who reached out to us and has planted a great variety of peppers and while they won’t be high volume, we are excited to see what kind of specialized sauces we can make with his peppers!
Congratulations!! You are in over 100 shops across the country which is an amazing success! We often have team members asking advice about how to break into wholesale. Is there any advice that you could impart?
When you begin wholesaling, it offers you the steady and reliable sales you need to become a full time maker – so if that’s your goal it’s the way to go. But don’t rush it. Make sure you’re product line is where it needs to be in terms of quality and profitability, and that you can make as much of it as your new retailers will need. If you can’t deliver in a timely manner, or discover you were undercharging and have to increase your pricing, you can burn bridges which will be hard to re-build. So just make sure you are where you need to be with your products before approaching retailers. I took my time and got lots of customer feedback for over 5 years at craft shows before making the next step, and I’m glad I did.
So, what started as a one-man experiment in hot sauce has turned into a very big operation. For a town the size of Montague, which if I am correct just saw a significant employer close their doors, your business must be a very welcome enterprise. How many people do you now employ?
Aside from myself, there will be 3 other people working full time this summer between the production, farming, and sales. One position is seasonal and the other 3 are year round.
Your success speaks volumes about the importance of supporting local. Care to comment on this?
People really react favorably to the fact that the sauces are made in the Maritimes. A large percentage of our retailers are boutique style shops, with a lot of their customers being tourists. The end user loves that it’s a Maritime staple and I think it’s become a bit of a tradition to pick up a few bottles to bring back home.
Some of us (myself included) tend to be a little timid about hot sauces. Can you give us a short ranking of some of the mildest to hottest peppers?
The great thing about hot sauces is they give you great control over how hot your meal is. If you don’t like it too hot, a teaspoon of habanero sauce in a stir fry just adds a bit of zing – but if you love it hot, you can make a puddle right on your plate and dip away. We make sauces with Jalapenos which are in the 30K Scoville Unit range, Cayenne which can be 50-100K, Habaneros at 350-500K, right on up to the Carolina Reaper, the current world’s hottest at up to 2.2 Million Scoville units!
Care to give us a few recipe suggestions?
Phillippine Style Mussel Soup
One stalk lemongrass
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp pepper & salt
3 cups water
1/2 cup Sandbar Sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 cups lightly packed spinach
3 tbsp lime juice
In a heavy sauce pan, sautee shallots until golden. Add garlic, and fry until golden. Cut lemongrass in 2″ pieces, and add along with diced fresh tomatoes and sautee until softened, about 2 minutes.
Stir in water, Sandbar Sauce, and fish sauce, bring to a boil. Add mussels, and cook until open.
Remove from heat, stir in lime juice and salt. Dig in!
For more recipes, click here.
Thank you so much for sharing with us.