Bone Suckin’ Sauce History
Phil Ford, a real estate appraiser and father of four in Raleigh, North Carolina, developed his sauce around 1987 while trying to copy his mother’s recipe for a western North Carolina-style barbecue sauce. The resulting fat-free, fragrant blend includes: tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, honey, molasses, mustard, horseradish, lemon juice, onions, garlic, peppers, natural hickory smoke, natural spices and salt.
Folks kept telling him that he needed to do something with the sauce – like bottle it and sell it! People loved it when he gave it away, but Phil never thought anyone would pay for his sauce. His sister-in-law, Sandi Ford, owner of Ford’s Fancy Fruits & Gourmet Foods in Raleigh, had years of experience in the gourmet food business and had other thoughts. She encouraged him to no avail. Then finally in September 1992, Sandi and her husband, Lynn, told Phil they’d like to be his partners in bringing his sauce to market. He’d make it and they’d give it a name and sell it. While driving to Charleston, South Carolina a short time later, Sandi was preoccupied with the task of coming up with a name. She thought about how go-o-o-d it was and how it made her do something she’d never done before — suck on the bones to get the last little bit of flavor. A name was born and the sauce was launched in November, 1992.
The origins of the business were rooted in the first produce house at the old city market of Raleigh in 1946. The present owners, Lynn and Sandi Ford, came into the family business in 1973 and expanded the business in 1986 by creating “Ford’s Fancy Fruits & Gourmet Foods,” which sold fruit baskets with NC peanuts, later expanding to open 2 retail stores carrying more than 300 NC gourmet food items from around the State. In 1992, they joined forces with a brother-in-law, Phillip Ford, who improved his mother’s recipe for barbeque sauce, and created a tomato-based sauce sweetened with honey and molasses.
They then teamed up with a NC Co-Packer (the firm that actually manufactures/mixes the sauce based on your recipe) in the summer of 1992. The Co-Packer, had the kitchen set-up, FDA and health certifications. This meant the Fords got a jump-start in producing their sauce and could concentrate on the marketing and distribution. They placed an order for 100 cases and made their first sale of the sauce in October 1992. The whole family got involved. Phillip and his family traveled around North Carolina doing in-store samplings. Vaughn, Lynn and Sandi’s oldest son, took cases of sauce to sell to stores in the mountains of NC. Patrick, their youngest son, sold to their first out-of-state customer, Virginia Smalls, Inc., a distributor on the SC Charleston Market. That meant that tourists bought and took their delicious sauce all over the USA .
The rise in fame of their core product, “Bone-Suckin’ Sauce,” began when Bone Suckin’ Sauce won “the NC Battle of the Sauces” in the March 1994. The owners and 16 other sauce producers joined forces with the NC State Farmers Market and North Carolina Department of Agriculture to put on “the NC Battle of the Sauces.” The first battle was in 1992 and continued for six years, eventually drawing more than 10,000 people. With increasing rave reviews, the sauce won best in sales records every year in the Winner’s Circle, the elite category of past 1st Place Winners.
The firm began considering exporting in the Summer of 1994. The owners had been going to the NASFT (National Association of the Specialty Food Trade) International Fancy Food Show in New York City for years as buyers, looking for good packaging for their retail gourmet food stores. Then luck helped. Elberson, Singer and Shuler, a newly formed advertising company out of Charlotte and now known as Elberson Partners, offered to put together an ad campaign. The owners of Ford’s Fancy Fruits strongly believe this creative talent was essential in making their company look stable and professional. So in 1994, Ford’s went to their first International Fancy Food Show as a seller on the other side of the aisle, debuting Bone Suckin’ Sauce to 50,000 buyers around the world.
At that show, foreign customers approached their small 10’ x 10’ booth, including the senior gourmet buyer from Harvey Nichols in London , a version of “Herod’s” meant for locals. The ad campaign materials were so good that they attracted media coverage. A writer/photographer from The New York Times was impressed enough to mention “Bone Suckin’ Sauce” on the first page of the food section the second day of the show. Soon Canada ’s “Bruno’s,” based out of Toronto , wanted to carry the product in four of its stores.
Today the firm exports to 80 countries. About 10-15% of its business comes from these exports, and both their domestic and export sales are growing. Ford’s Gourmet Foods plans are to develop an organics line, and broaden the range of gourmet foods offered.