Ketchup is one hot commodity. Research indicates 93 percent of people who order hamburgers at restaurants use ketchup.
According to the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, more ketchup makers are going into the gourmet market offering different flavors. Leawood resident Bruce Steinberg has jumped on the bandwagon with his Fine Vines Artisanal Ketchup.
Steinberg is introducing his ketchup into the local food market through specialty stores, select grocers and a new website, due to launch Feb. 1. Fine Vines has 12 flavors from savory sweet to some with more “heat.” Among the flavors are lemon twist, Thai ginger and black truffle.
“They’re based on flavors people use in cooking, so it can easily go with food,” he said.
Steinberg, a self-proclaimed foodie, started exploring his own business more than five years ago as he studied and sampled various barbecue recipes.
“The development of the brand started as an evolution of my moving to Kansas City and becoming a student of barbecue,” Steinberg said. “It got to the point I was making barbecue sauce and I realized the weakest link was the ketchup.”
A student of food, Steinberg researched ketchup recipes and began making some.
With the idea that he could make a better tasting product, Steinberg started to research the marketplace “and there was no flavor choice,” he said.
“I decided to pursue this as a business — it presented an opportunity,” Steinberg said.
By marrying a different flavor profile to ketchup with a strong brand, Steinberg was convinced he would have a winner with his epicurean product.
A newcomer to the food industry, Steinberg spent years as an account manager in managed care sales with Sanofi-Aventis, a global health care company. “I had lots of experience with business plans and meeting unmet needs,” Steinberg said.
When he retired from Sanofi two years ago, Steinberg put that experience to work — researching competition in the food industry in much the same way he had assessed Sanofi’s competition in health care.
Steinberg didn’t stop there.
“I went through extensive training — I did (Kauffman) FastTrac New Ventures course in 2011, and I did the UMKC Entrepreneurship one-year program and was a finalist in the challenge competition,” Steinberg said.
In addition, he used the expertise of small business programs at Johnson County Community College and the University of Missouri-Kansas City. There was also product development and marketing help from the University of Nebraska’s Food Entrepreneur Assistance Program and Kansas State University’s Food Science Department.
Steinberg formed a parent corporation, Fine Foods of America, of which Fine Vines Artisanal Ketchup is the first product.
He produces the ketchup at the Ennovation Center in Independence, using its kitchen incubator space. Steinberg orders the ingredients, some from local producers, including an apple cider vinegar used in his recipe. He cooks the batches and uses special semi-automated equipment to fill the 9-ounce glass jars with colorful labels created by a food packaging designer on the West Coast. Each batch produces about 10 cases with 12 jars to a case.
Steinberg spends about 50 hours monthly producing the ketchup, which retails for $6 to $9 a jar. Operating the business side of things from his Leawood home, Steinberg is also the marketing department and salesman for his company.
“The packaging itself is the key salesperson,” he said. “And I’m doing a lot of demos.”
He doesn’t plan to go it alone forever, though, and says he’s “exploring brokers and distributors.”
Steinberg has mentors, including Danny O’Neill, founder of Roasterie Coffee.
“At first, I didn’t know anything about Bruce and I thought, ‘Ketchup?’ hemming and hawing,” O’Neill said. “But when I met him, I liked him immediately.”
O’Neill has provided a sounding board for Steinberg in his new endeavor, and The Roasterie has become part of the business providing one of the flavors.
“I tasted the ketchup and that made the difference,” O’Neill said. “Anything we’re going to do, it’s got to be extraordinary and something we love. We loved it and my staff loved it.”
As Fine Vines rolls out into area stores, Steinberg has big plans for the future.
“My endeavor is not to be a mom-and-pop business,” Steinberg said. “My goal is to be a national brand with people having three to four different jars in their refrigerator.”