In the summer of 2012, four friends in their mid-twenties entered a BBQ competition together to see if they could capture and share the grill master crown. Their key ingredient was Jamaican scotch bonnet pepper, and they appropriately named their team “Scotch Boyz.” The Boyz won the competition with the recipe that would become their Island BBQ Sauce, and quickly became highly sought-after for their signature flavor. Seeing the opportunity clearly in front of them, they began to bottle the condiment for sale, and, in 2015, Scotch Boyz was born.
What happened between that grill master competition in 2012 and your 2015 relaunch and what made you decide to take it beyond friends and family to the mass market?
After we won the BBQ competition, friends, acquaintances and people who had attended the BBQ competition kept coming up to us to ask where they could get the sauces. When one of our cheapest friends offered to pay for the sauce, we knew we had something special. Based on the overwhelming response, we decided to launch the Scotch Boyz as a brand and we haven’t looked back since.
It seems the four Scotch Boyz work together from far and wide. Who are the members of your team and what does each of you do?
We all grew up together as childhood friends. There’s Neil Hudson, who leads our sales efforts. Neil is currently based in Atlanta. Drew Gray manages our manufacturing operations. He has over 10 years of experience in the agro-processing industry. He is based in Westmoreland, Jamaica. Matthew Wallace drives our brand strategy and has over 10 years experience in the hospitality industry. Matthew is also located in Westmoreland, Jamaica. Kemar Swaby is our Creative Director, based in New York. If you like the Scotch Boyz branding, then you can thank Kemar!
Drew actually perfected the sauce based on a recipe his grandfather had created in Portland, Jamaica over 70 years ago. For us, it’s extremely important that we’re using the freshest ingredients in our sauces. They help to create the vibrant flavors that our customers love and keep coming back to.
Each of us has a favorite, with the Island BBQ sauce and the Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce in a tie for first place. The Island BBQ is extremely versatile and can be used as a marinade or directly on meals. It packs some unbelievable flavor. The Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce has a unique and distinctive flavor. The heat slowly creeps up on you and leaves you with a tingling sensation. It’s really a feast for the senses.
Explain the ethos behind the Scotch Boyz brand.
Scotch Boyz believes in the power of a tiny seed to transform communities. As a brand, our goal is to have a positive impact on our local community while growing our business. It’s very important to us that our success also means success for the local farming community in Jamaica.
Small farmers are the heartbeat of our local community. Outside of their own families they also supply residents with food and support the other local industries. We all grew up in rural Jamaica, where we saw how the economic insecurity of the farmers directly affected the viability of the other residents in the community. As products of this region, we have a passion for our home and a desire to see the area develop and the residents succeed. Paying a premium for the ingredients we source locally seemed like the best way to give back, as we seek to create a more sustainable network.
The Give Back Tracker concept was born out of our desire to highlight the significant contribution of small farmers. Once developed, customers will be able to scan a QR code on their bottle, which will then link that particular sauce to a specific farm in Jamaica. Customers can then track the progress of the farms associated with their purchases and watch as they grow.
As of April 2023, your products are available at Target stores around the United States. Congrats on that amazing accomplishment and making Jamaica proud! How did you get to this point and what thoughts did you have when you learned about that win for your brand?
When we launched in Jamaica, we had such a positive response to our products, but we knew we wanted to take the business global. Along our journey, we partnered with the Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO), a government body dedicated to promoting export and investment opportunities in Jamaica and abroad. JAMPRO helped to open the doors for us, as we were part of a trade mission in 2019 to SIAL Canada, the largest food trade show in North America.
Since then, we’ve had new opportunities to put our brand on the map, including a partnership with TJ Maxx to place our products on the shelves in the UK and Europe, and finding a home in over 30 stores across Canada. However, most notably, in 2022 we were honored by the New Voices Foundation and Shea Moisture as one of the winners of the Next Black Millionaire Fund, an amazing opportunity that has helped to push our brand forward as we try to break into the US market.
What are some of the notable differences in the scope of your business from the time you first started Scotch Boyz until now?
We are much more mature in our business practices and scale. The brand started in Jamaica where we were doing a few cases a month and in March 2023 we imported a full container to America. The brand also found success in Europe where we launched in 600 stores across the United Kingdom, Germany and Poland. We have twice weekly meetings where we run through our dashboards for sales, marketing, inventory, and supply chain. When we first started we ran the entire business solely on WhatsApp messages. It’s been a process to put these systems in place but they have helped us scale and plan and not be purely reactive.
What has been the best part of this journey for you all so far?
It’s a wonderful feeling to know that you’re creating something with your friends. As the brand has grown, we’ve been able to celebrate the wins together as a team and honestly, there’s nothing better than that. On the bad days, it’s a comfort to know that your friends have your back and we can support each other through the disappointments. We are also showing the world that four Black men can build and scale a successful business while investing in the local community.
What is the most important piece of advice you would give to other Caribbean entrepreneurs who also want to reach a national platform?
Being an entrepreneur requires resilience and creativity, two traits that are in abundance among Caribbean people. There are so many challenges on the road to partnering with a major national retailer but don’t be discouraged, we often think that we have to do everything on our own but it’s important to also rely on others in your journey.
What is the hardest part of being an entrepreneur?
The hardest part of being an entrepreneur is that you have to become immune to the word “no” and keep going.
Where do you see your business in the next five or ten years?
We have so many plans for the Scotch Boyz brand. We’re hoping to continue to expand the brand across the US and appear in other major retail chains in the near future. Within the next five years we hope to release new sauces and optimize the current line of sauces. All of our sauces except the Honey Scotch are vegan friendly and we will launch a vegan “honey” line of sauces using plant based sweeteners. We also plan to open a restaurant, featuring our sauces, first in Jamaica and then the United States. It’s only up from here.
What does it mean to you all to represent Jamaica in this way, and how are you using your platform to celebrate or positively impact the community?
It means so much to us, truly an indescribable feeling. We take such pride in being Jamaican-made and Jamaican-owned. Jamaica has had such a large cultural and culinary impact on the world and it’s a privilege to contribute to the tradition. We don’t take it lightly that we are cultural ambassadors for the brand. In fact Neil, one of our co-founders had to get permission from the Prime Minister of Jamaica’s office to even place the Jamaican flag on our labels.
As our business has grown, we’ve been sure to re-invest in our local community through our partnership with over 200 small farmers and local schools. Besides paying a premium for their ingredients, we have also made an effort to help train the farmers on more sustainable and effective farming practices, which would help them to improve their yields and shore up the supply chain. We have also participated in projects to improve the infrastructure and supplies at local schools. Our most recent project has been in collaboration with a construction firm to build a walkway connecting the main school building to the restrooms so that students can easily access that area when it rains.
All images courtesy of Scotch Boyz