A very busy year so far…

A very busy year so far…

Crikey. Wowzers. 2022 has been a very busy year so far.

Our appearance on The Hairy Bikers Go North For Christmas had a tremendous impact on our business. In total honesty, perhaps naively, I didn’t anticipate the scale of that kind of exposure. It caught us off guard and propelled us into 2022 at an almighty pace, but also on a bit of a back foot.

Having a laugh with two cracking fellas

The show aired twice, on the 23rd and 27th December, and the sheer volume of new visitors crashed our website during both transmissions. The first showing led to 75,000 people visiting our site that night, which completely shut down our servers, and then again on the 27th, even after substantially uprating our server capacity the website crashed under the weight of the increased traffic.

So, we began the year with a huge amount of web orders to fulfill, several thousand new followers across our social media accounts, and inboxes overflowing with well-wishing messages from friends and family and customers old and new.

I’d had the foresight to limit the amount of stock in our online inventory before The Hairy Bikers, so that whilst processing the backlog was a pretty gargantuan task, it was still manageable over the course of a couple of weeks. It meant that our website was out of stock for a short while, but our customers are a very understanding bunch, who all know that the good stuff is well worth the wait.

The mail order mountain grows taller…

Once all of the outstanding orders had been processed and the local Post Office had gotten used to me dragging sacks overflowing with boxes through their door every other morning it was time to replenish our stocks going forward. But this wasn’t as straightforward as simply firing up the hobs and cooking batches of sauce as I have always done.

Over the past few years, I’ve settled into a work/life routine that accounts for most of my time. I look after my daughter for a couple of days each week which means that generally speaking, I usually have one or two days a week with which to cook sauce, and I split the remaining time between growing chillies, labelling bottles, running the website, delivering to shops and processing web orders.

So how do I produce all the extra sauce to satisfy the increased demand with no more time at my disposal?

The saying goes… ‘Work smarter, not harder.’

I settled on… Work smarter, and harder!

The first, most obvious, and simple solution…

Time to scale up.

I pushed the boundaries of what I could comfortably fit on my hob and the first investment was to buy a much bigger sauce pan, double the size of what I had been using. This meant scaling up all of our recipes over the course of a few weeks. Not a massive job, but also not as simple as just doubling all of our ingredients. Now all of our recipes have been scaled up I can cook twice as much sauce per day by working on average an extra three hours per batch.

The next big change was our packaging process. Can you believe that for the past nine years I have hand labelled every single bottle of sauce we’ve sold? I know, right? Ridiculous in hindsight. Just one of those things that I started doing when I didn’t know any better, and it became a part of my routine.

After a bit of research, I found myself a handy manual labelling machine, and after a few adjustments I’ve now halved the time I spend labelling.

Why didn’t I do this years ago?!

With our whole production process scaled up and streamlined we were ready to concentrate on this year’s chilli season.

For the past few years we’ve hit some form of obstacle in the spring of the season every year, be it dodgy lighting, cold shock, poor compost, bacterial infection, insect infestation, or just late planting and germination, something always seems to happen to knock the crop for six in the first few months. This year we were determined to get a solid start to the season, with no setbacks.

Our seeds were ordered in good time, and all planted in the heated propagators quickly. We had a minor setback with poor compost in one of the propagators, but that was spotted and corrected swiftly. Amy was an absolute trooper and made sure every single plant was potted on at precisely the right time, not allowing for any pot-binding as I often do!

I constructed a new bench in our conservatory to house and ensure better light access for the young plants. Ordinarily they spend their first few months competing for real estate on windowsills and sunny surfaces around the house.

Grandmaster Flash once said “It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under.” And every springtime I can relate to that.
80s hip hop references aside, we got through spring without any major setbacks and by the end of May I had moved all of our plants into their final positions in our polytunnel. Now it’s just a case of keeping all fingers crossed for more of this lovely weather we’ve been having lately and a good hot, sunny summer!

Over the past year I’ve had quite a few people asking me why I’m not back out doing markets and food festivals, and when I’ll be getting back out there, so this is a good chance to address that.

Over the course of the last couple of years of lockdown I had to pivot our business model away from relying so heavily on live events for income. We were lucky enough to have a solid website so I’ve focused my time on building up online sales and presence.
Now live events have been back for a while and it looks like (hopefully) things will stay open over the winter, but I don’t really have the time any more to get back out there.
I do miss seeing so many of our lovely customers face to face and having some banter on the stalls, and I’m keen to get out to some events again, but when I’ll be able to commit, I’m not entirely sure. My daughter starts school in September, so all being well I may be able to get out to trade at one or two events over winter.

That’s about all I’ve got in terms of news for you guys, so I’ll take the opportunity to thank all of our customers new and old for your continued support and bid you all farewell!

Hopefully I won’t leave it quite so long before I get another blog post up this time, I’m aiming to get content up more regularly and I have a few things in the pipelines that I’m looking forward to sharing with you all.