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Ferretti enjoys heat of N.J. hot sauce competition

By RICHARD SKELLY
AFP Correspondent

HILLSBOROUGH (Aug. 15, 2015) — As crowded as the hot sauce field has become in places like New Jersey, Texas, Louisiana and New York City, Bob Ferretti of Hillsborough has nothing but good things to say about other Garden State’s hot sauce makers, and the local farmers who supply him with the hot peppers for his growing business.
Ferretti, founder of Hot Sauce 4 Good, was raised near Newport, R.I., in a family of chefs, in Catholic schools, but he didn’t discover the joy — and culinary agony — of hot pepper sauces until he was attending Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., where he majored in religious studies.
There, he worked part-time in the school’s kitchen and became fascinated with various kinds of hot sauce.
“We have a wonderful representation of people involved in hot sauce in New Jersey. It’s a great community,” Ferretti said at a recent meeting in his backyard, where he grows small numbers of a super-hot breed called “Carolina Reaper.”
These peppers are alleged to be hotter than even the most-feared Jalokia peppers from India that some hot pepper enthusiasts are now growing, Ferretti added.
“Everybody in the hot sauce community I’ve run into has been very helpful and supportive, and we’ve been making hot sauce for about 11 years, but only the last three years have we been serious about it and made this into a business,” Ferretti said.
A portion of proceeds of each bottle sold benefits local and international charities. Ferretti has used his background in marketing at Merrill Lynch and a small New York agency where he still works part-time to carve a niche for his four flavors, all using locally grown hot peppers and mass produced and bottled at the Rutgers Food Innovation Center in Bridgeton, which he described as a great, well-run facility.
“I grew up in a charitable family,” he explains, “even though I worked in marketing in the business world for 20 years, making hot sauce was just a natural way for us to continue charity work by finding causes we believe in and giving back to them. I always wanted to combine my passion for hot peppers with charitable work.”
Ferretti’s marketing experience has come in handy as he builds his business at outdoor festivals, trade shows and on the Internet.
“We had to have a way to differentiate ourselves, and the charitable giving part of it is how we are different. It’s something we know people will want to get behind.”
One of the charities Ferretti believed in supporting from the get-go was World Vision Micro, an organization that makes small loans for businesses, mostly in the Third World.
“Somehow the folks at World Vision Micro got wind of what we were doing it and contacted us two years ago and asked us if we would do something with them, if we would go to Ethiopia and meet some of the folks who we’d been supporting through donations from the hot sauces,” Ferretti said, “and that’s when we turned from a small concern into a business. We ended up raising about $60,000 last May for a special event through this World Vision Micro charity.”
Locally, HotSauce4Good supports the Elijah’s Promise Soup Kitchen in New Brunswick and another New Jersey charity, Urban Impact.
Ferretti formally founded HotSauce4Good in 2013.
The last two seasons he or his helpers have been out at farmers’ markets around the state, including Woodbridge, Somerville, Rutgers Gardens, the Duke Estate in Hillsborough, Branchburg and Montgomery Township.
“Hoboken and Jersey City are on the radar for coming years, but they’re not easy to get into,” he said.
Ferretti credited the Rutgers Food Innovation Center in Bridgeton as well as food science experts at the Cook College Campus of Rutgers in New Brunswick.
“They have the scientists and the facilities, to walk us through the process of mass producing hot sauce and advise us on issues with the FDA, and that has relieved a lot of the stress that we initially had because we didn’t know how to do all this,” he explained. “They’re an incubator program: they’ll kick us out once we’re big enough and know everything that we need to do.”
At the Rutgers processing center in Bridgeton, there are hot sauce makers like Ferretti, but also tomato sauce makers, meat packagers, juice makers and others, “all in the heart of the farmland down there in south Jersey.”
Ferretti also had high praise for the local farmers who produce about 80 percent of the hot peppers he uses in his four flavors — Hot Garlic, LoHeato, SubLime Cilantro and Autumn Spice. He credited Doug van Nuys of Hillsborough Farm and Rich and Debbie Norz at Norz Hill Farm, also in Hillsborough.
“In the off-season, we have to purchase from growers out of state, but we try to keep it inside the U.S., including growers in the Carolinas,” he said.
When Ferretti and his prep crews do work with extreme peppers like Carolina Reaper or Jalokia peppers, “we take precautions and wear gas masks and goggles.”
Whether he’s making a 10-gallon batch or a 90-gallon batch, “my hand touches every one of the peppers at some point and we’re directly involved through the entire bottling process.”
Given his years in marketing, Ferretti plans to expand his product line a bit more to include various types of barbecue sauce.
“The folks who have been around for a while are the folks we look up to from a business standpoint,” Ferretti explained, “whenever we see them at trade shows and other events, they’ve always been very supportive.”