From humble beginnings, Kaitaia Fire Ltd produces chilli pepper sauce based in Glenfield, Auckland and now exports sauce all around the world, as well as producing a range of organic hot products for the domestic market. Garry Sommerville chatted with the team about winning awards and increasing sales.

What is your company background, how did you start the business?

"I started Kaitaia Fire in 1989 after securing a grant from the Tai Tokerau (Northland) Business Development Board to investigate the viability of producing a New Zealand chilli pepper sauce. The chilli peppers are barrel aged with salt, in the time honoured fashion of Tabasco sauce. Because of this time constraint the first sauce was ready for sale in December 1991, having spent the better part of the intervening years sourcing bottles, labels, and cartons and ensuring continuity of supply by laying down several further crops of cayenne peppers at my five acre certified organic farm in Doubtless Bay in the Far North."

What are the current product range and variants and how do these products stand out in the market?

"The critical and commercial success of the original Kaitaia Fire sauce led me to consider developing an iconic New Zealand sauce resulting in our Waha Wera “The Burnt Mouth” made from kiwifruit, manuka honey and the then world’s hottest pepper, the habanero. We have won many food awards in both New Zealand and overseas for both sauces, which culminated in our First Place in the Hot Fruit Sauce section of the 1996 Fiery Food Challenge put on by Chili Pepper Magazine in Albuquerque NM, USA, out of 150 entries.

Both of these hot sauces were the first New Zealand produced hot sauces, and I believe that Waha Wera remains the only hot sauce in the world to use kiwifruit. Both are gluten free and at the time we were the first food manufacturer to use manuka honey in a food product and this achievement resulted in an innovation award from the NZ Honey Producers Cooperative in 1997."

Has there been any recent company news?

"Our sales have increased every year since we began production, and the days are long gone when I did the growing, maintenance, harvesting, production, labelling, dispatch and admin, all on my own. We now employ a core staff of five at our new food production facility in Glenfield, Auckland, and the growing is done by a network of about seven contract growers in Northland."

What are the plans for the business moving forward, is there any expansion on the horizon?

"Approximately 30 percent of all our production ends up offshore, and we currently export to Australia, Canada, USA, Japan, Malaysia, China, Netherlands, and the UK. Only last week, in a real coals to Newcastle story, we sent a pallet load of sauce to a new customer in  Houston Texas. We firmly believe that our future lies in exploiting the New Zealand clean, green image offshore, and export is where we focus most of our attention these days, given the limited size of the local market."

Where are your products currently available to buy, and are you looking at or wanting to expand your availability? If so, where would you like to see the product situated?

"In this country, our sauces are available at most Countdown supermarkets, the better New Worlds and Pak n Saves and specialty deli stores, butchers, and gift shops."