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Small-Business Success Story: Spicing Up an American Classic

These college classmates built a brand around their premium ketchup.

Kiplinger's spoke with Scott Norton (pictured left), 29, cofounder of Sir Kensington's, a New York City-based maker of premium ketchup, about how he started his business with college friend Mark Ramadan, 29. Read on for an excerpt from our interview:

Why focus on ketchup? We met at Brown University, where we collaborated on class projects. After college, Mark worked in consulting, I was in finance, and we stayed in touch. We love food and are devoted eaters. Mark is half Lebanese and I’m half Armenian. We both grew up with strong flavors and have adventurous palates. We were dissatisfied with commodity ketchup and wanted to create a better one.

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How did you develop your recipe? We learned about the history of ketchup and explored homemade recipes. We made six versions and invited 30 friends to a tasting party. The winners became our classic and spiced ketchups. Now we collaborate with chefs, high-end grocers and other people with fantastic palates.

What makes your ketchup different? We use whole tomatoes instead of concentrate, to avoid adding a ton of sugar, salt and flavoring agents. We don’t use high-fructose corn syrup.

Who is Sir Kensington? Without a reputation or an advertising budget, and because every other ketchup is synonymous with Americana, we knew we needed to be dramatically different. So we created a posh English character to represent our premium brand [read his story at sirkensingtons.com].

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How did you launch? In 2010, we attended the Fancy Food Show in New York City, where we located producers who could meet our requirements, help us commercialize our recipes, make sample batches and figure out pricing.

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What does commercializing a recipe mean? Taking a recipe from your kitchen to large-scale production isn’t a simple, one-to-one translation. You must determine which ingredients and processes create the flavor and consistency that you’re looking for and do it affordably.

How did you sell your ketchup? We started selling online and in stores in New York, like Murray’s Cheese and Dean & DeLuca. Then Sur La Table, Whole Foods and Williams-Sonoma brought us on, and we’ve grown from there. Our own sales team works with more than 500 restaurants and hotels across the U.S. Food brokers help us reach buyers for retail stores.

How did you finance your start-up? Our friends and family invested more than $1 million. In 2015, we raised about $8.5 million from a private-equity firm called Verlinvest, whose primary focus is healthy food and beverages, and a few other investors.

How have you grown? We’ve doubled or tripled our sales every year, and we’re on track for the same this year. In 2015, we sold more than 2.5 million jars of our products, which now include ketchups, mustards, mayonnaises, a dijonnaise, a special sauce, and Fabanaises, our vegan mayos [buy the ketchup duo online for $10 and a sampler of ketchup, mustard and mayo for $18]. This is our livelihood, and Mark and I are salaried. We employ 30 people now. They’re our secret ingredient.

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