By Susan Craig
Celebrity products are nothing new. High profile celeb names are on everything from perfume to clothing to motor oil to shoes. It was only a matter of time before they’d discover food, especially the hot stuff. Salsas and hot sauces are now marketed under the names of singers, comics and movie stars (sometimes one and the same) and sports stars. While celebrity marketing can be a gimmick for a quick buck, the folks whose pictures are on many hot food products are taking the whole business quite seriously. They know what they like, their personal taste stamps the product, and they’re out there telling everybody about it. Perhaps your favorite superstar will be next.
How does this happen? Do these people hide out in their kitchens, stirring up the old family recipes? Do food producers look around for a celebrity to match up with their product? Or is it the marketers who create these matches made in heaven?
The answers: yes, yes, and yes.
Take Paul Newman, for example, and his Newman’s Own All-Natural Bandito Salsa. Here’s one of the highest-profile celebrities of modern time who does, in fact, whip up recipes in the kitchen. Recipes for the extensive line of Newman’s Own products come from either Newman himself, his family or from someone within the company.
Newman’s Own Salsa has been on the market for many years and comes in six versions: mild, medium and hot, and peach, pineapple and garlic. Bill Lee, vice president of Newman’s Own, says the interesting flavors in the latter three come from the contrast of the hot and the sweet. Paul Newman’s favorite? “The hot salsa,” says Lee. Newman’s Own also markets All-Natural Diavolo Sauce for pasta, a very hot sauce to use with chicken or fish.
The northeast part of the country is where Newman’s Own salsas sell the most, according to Lee, because people there don’t make their own salsa. However, all products are marketed nationally. In marketing talk, their purchasers are college-educated, higher-income families with two or more children. Lee says that at this time Newman’s Own has no plans to expand their hot foods line.
A celebrity who doesn’t mix up his own hot sauces but who throws himself into the joy of tasting and eating them is Cheech Marin, a powerhouse entertainer whose credits include acting, directing, writing, music and art collecting. Some of us will recall his hilarious run as part of the duo Cheech and Chong, others as a star of the CBS show “Nash Bridges,” and anybody who goes to movies has seen him in heaps of high-powered films. He provides voice-overs in blockbuster children’s animated films and has recorded bilingual children’s albums. The list goes on and on, and the question that comes to mind is: Why hot food? Don’t you have enough on your plate?
“Well,” says the Cheech, “they asked me.” The “they” consists of his artist friend Alan Aldridge, and the hot food manufacturer and marketer Figueroa Brothers, Inc. But they asked the right person, as Marin is really into food. “I cooked for hotels and restaurants during my youth,” he says. “I cook every day when I’m home. I love it! From my Mexican heritage I know a lot about chiles, and I wanted habanero, wanted it (my product) to have a whang.” Taking into account some of his requests, Figueroa Brothers experimented with sauces and sent bottles of them to Marin to taste.
“I’d gather a bunch of friends and we’d go to a restaurant or my house to taste. You can weed out some right away, and after that it comes down to what your taste is as well as making some allowances for the taste of the general public. Through that process we came up with the intensity and flavors that I like. My favorite is the Mojo Mango.” Typically people associate hot sauces with Mexican food, says Marin, but hot sauces cross over into many cuisines. He likes the mango sauce with shrimp and chicken and with Asian ingredients like beef with noodles, bean sprouts, mint and cilantro.
There are three The Cheech® hot sauces: Gnarly Garlic (habaneros, carrots, onions, “mucho garlic and a splash of lime juice”), Smokin’ Chipotle (jalapeños, cayenne, tabasco and habanero together with molasses, sugar cane vinegar, and a little rum), and Mojo Mango (mangoes and habaneros). Figueroa Brothers president David O. Figueroa feels that Marin the gourmand has provided the company with the opportunity “to do its best work.” The products have been available only on the Internet at www.thecheech.com, but following food show exposure in California this January, Marin hopes to see his products “everywhere.” Targeted retail markets nationally are specialty gourmet stores, Latin American and Mexican stores and grocery stores. A hot marketing campaign employs unforgettable T-shirts, posters and counter displays.
“I hope that everyone has a lot of fun with these products,” Marin says. “They taste good and are good for your health. Later on we’ll probably do more foods. We’re trying to take our time and make sure that these are real quality products.”
Another route to product development was pursued by Redneck Foods, Inc., and had to do with the birth of a restaurant. David Womick, CEO, was approached by comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s agent about starting a restaurant with Foxworthy’s name on it. “I thought it was one of the greatest ideas I ever heard,” he says. “Everyone readily identifies with Jeff.” Thus was Jeff Foxworthy’s Backyard Bar-B-Q born, and with it the generation of five barbecue sauces including Redneck Hot and Extreme Hot.
Prize-winning Redneck Hot is a spicy version of the original molasses-based barbecue sauce. Also in the line are Tangy Mustard and Carolina Bourbon. Extreme Hot, says Womick, “came from knowing that we needed a very hot sauce in our restaurants. It’s papaya with habanero, great with catfish, pork or chicken.” Womick notes that, hot though this sauce is, “it enhances food rather than masking it.” He points out that barbecue is a very regional taste, so their line of sauces lets people either have what they want or try something new.
And yes, Jeff Foxworthy has his hand deeply in the pot. Sauces are developed from his own recipes, for starters; and he has been on the promotion trail including national talk shows. “He’s committed to be out there,” says Womick.
This is only the beginning for Foxworthy, the largest-selling comedy recording artist in history, TV star, and writer of nine best-selling books. Jeff Foxworthy’s Backyard Bar-B-Q and its full-service partner Jeff Foxworthy’s Smokehouse Grill are “going to grow explosively” in Florida, North Carolina and Georgia, according to Redneck Foods marketing director Dave Bonyun (“The Marketing Guy”). The sauces will also be available in supermarkets within the next two to three years and, who knows? There might be more hot sauces on the way.
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