The story of Rich Sauces has a very Irish flavour to it, mixed with a dash of Northern Irish engineering and a never say die attitude. When Trevor Kells’ fish processing business collapsed in 1985, he went to work in his parents’ fish and chips shop in Belfast. It was his only option, says the man who describes himself as ‘unemployable and unbiddable’!
He wasn’t working there for long, however, before he realised the opportunity right under his nose. He and his mother Maud Kells had been working tirelessly to finalise the best recipe for their chip shop mayonnaise. Once completed, Trevor decided to apply his engineering skills to build a specialised machine in order to produce commercial volumes of their product. His unique selling point in those early days was the ability to provide mayonnaise in industrial volumes that was consistently superior to what his customers could produce in their own kitchens. It would save them time and money and improve the quality of their product offerings, something that remains the core principal of the business to this day. This focus on his customers as well as a never say die attitude has led to Trevor assuming a position of chairman, mentor and serial innovator in a close knit family business, that today employs more than 60 people at its factory in Newtownards.
Rich Sauces has upward of 60 catering food suppliers throughout the UK and Ireland, and customers in the USA, the Middle East and continental Europe, with its products being sold exclusively to food manufacturers and processors. Mayonnaise and its variants are still a stable of the range, which now extends to ketchups, uncooked highly flavoured sauces (another of the company’s proprietary technologies), bouillons and many more dressings and wholesale sauces, sold under the Rich Sauces brand or in the newer Alfees range.
Over 29 years Rich Sauces has built a firm relationship with its food service customers, thriving in a competitive market thanks to a focus on quality and customer benefit. “As with the first mayonnaise we sold, the end product is sold as our customers’, so they can’t afford to compromise on quality and consistency, and our products are the best on the market,” says Trevor Kells. “We have a team of new product development (NPD) “chefnicians” who are all from a culinary background, and have developed a huge amount of Food Science expertise over the years. This means that they understand the importance of flavour, texture, aroma and all the things that the consumer appreciates but also have the technical ability to ensure this quality is present in the final products our customers receive.” According to Trevor’s mother, Maud Kells, however, “despite all the clever people and expertise in the building here now, and in companies around the world, nobody has yet managed to improve on my original mayonnaise product; but I suppose quality is timeless!”
The Rich Sauces team works with the customer directly to develop an end product they want and in many cases even better than they imagined. Trevor cites the example of a retail customer who wanted to develop a range of boil-in-the-bag fish meals. As each type of fish behaves differently, sauces need to be created to maintain the quality of each fish component during the cooking process, leaving the final customer with consistent results every time.
Another customer is preparing twelve sandwiches for the Christmas season. Working with this customer’s preferred bread supplier, Rich Sauces created twelve menu design ideas with step-by-step procedures on how to implement them in-store, including training the staff. “We do a lot of extra service beyond just making the best sauces in the market,” says Kells, it’s a good illustration of how Rich Sauces guards the reputations of its customers”.
With 150 products in the catering food supplies range the product development needs of most food producers can be quickly met. All are manufactured at the company’s 55,000 square foot plant, which produces an average of 400 tonnes of product each week. “It is a fully ISO and BRC (British Retail Consortium) accredited site and we have recently won an award for our focus on the environment and sustainability,” he adds.
The really exciting news from Rich Sauces was the creation of a partnership company at the end of 2014, a parallel business, RS Cutting Edge. This business was founded by Trevor Kells and Dr Liam Ryan, a food scientist with many years of academic and industrial experience, who is passionate about developing and implementing novel technologies in a sustainable and cost effective way.
The challenge of feeding the world’s growing population with the optimal use of resources, to ensure the cost effective and sustainable production of food is a major focus. Waste occurs at each stage of the production process all the way from the farm to people’s dinner tables, with one third or 1.3 billion tonnes of the food produced globally being lost or going to waste (United Nations Environment Programme, 2011). Technologies are continually being developed in-house to improve food quality at each stage of production with the working relationship, with Rich Sauces and its senior management focusing these technologies on producing better quality food with longer life, at a lower final cost to the producer/consumer.
Recent attention internally has been on chewing gum biodegradability, the nutritional quality of foods and a solution to campylobacter on chicken, all of which cause many billions of pounds in problems every year in the UK and the wider world. In tandem with this, work is currently being performed on implementing some of RS Cutting Edge’s shelf life extension products in developing countries and with the University of Ulster, Coleraine, on the use of naturally occurring algae and seaweed as carbon neutral, sustainable food sources. There is also a large research programme underway to help remove some of the chemical additives currently found in foods on our supermarket shelves, replacing them with natural alternatives that perform as well, both functionally and commercially.
“One of the best things about Rich Sauces,” admits Liam Ryan, “is their ability to just get things done and to have fun doing it. Our engineering team is really quick to build the bespoke equipment we need to run trials, dramatically increasing our competitive advantage.”
Rich Sauces and RS Cutting Edge together will be a strong force in the global food market, says Trevor Kells. “We have developed a perfect partnership here. Rich Sauces is 90 percent based in the UK and Ireland, while the sales plan for RS Cutting Edge is global. But the ultimate goal for both companies is to give competitive advantage to our clients and deliver the best possible end product.”