Hot sauce is hot stuff for Perth exporter

A love of all things spicy led Perth woman Renae Bunster to begin making her own hot sauce when she was unable to find any local retail products that hit the spot.

When friends started beating down her door to get hold of the stuff, she realised others were also looking for a quality product and now Bunsters range of hot sauces are shipping all over the world.

Renae said the first indication she might have a marketable product was when a friend asked her to make 100 bottles to sell for a fundraiser.

“I ended up getting a cheque for $800 from the Melville Lakers Netball Club and that’s when I thought, ‘Wow – time I got a website and went public’,” she said.

In 2015 she ran a crowd-funding campaign and raised $250,000 to pay for the first large batch of sauce, which sold out – 18,000 bottles in three months.

Her signature product, “Sh--t the Bed” hot sauce, began to receive attention from local and national media outlets, quickly followed by global interest from influencers like US website Buzzfeed.

Achieving recognition and market share in the USA was a key goal for Bunsters, with the end result that Bunsters hot sauces are now available from US distributor Amazon.

“I wanted the validation that this wasn’t just a good sauce for Aussies, and if the hot sauce aficionados in America liked it then I figured I must be doing something right,” said Renae. 

Apart from online sales, where requests come in from all over the world, the markets Bunsters is focused on are the USA and UK.

“Lots of businesses wear the number of countries their products are available in as a badge of honour but that’s not us – with every new overseas market there are new headaches and fires to put out,” said Renae.

“I believe strongly in the 80–20 rule, so am keeping the headaches to a minimum and only selling my sauce to the 80 per cent of the world who really want it and who also get the English language joke on the label.”

The business of hot sauce

Taking the leap from kitchen to business was not something Renae embarked upon lightly, being aware that many entrepreneurs who attempt to turn hobby into business don’t get the results they hope for.

“Since we went viral in 2014 it’s taken two people working full time and a lot of money to get to where we are, and success like this doesn’t just happen because of a good recipe, a chance swearword and a generous crowd funding campaign,” she said.

Renae said that while all those things combined to create a fantastic opportunity that Bunsters capitalised on, a lot of work and personal investment was needed to back it up and take it to the next level.

“I just want to make would-be business owners aware it wasn’t a cut and dried done deal after our crowdfunding campaign. We’ve had to do a lot of ongoing work,” she said.

“Get good advice before you rush in. Not every business idea is one that should be pursued.”

The key to the success of Bunsters hot sauces is the taste and Renae is always visiting new countries and restaurants in search of ideas.

“When I taste something that blows my socks off I take a closer look at the ingredients – or invade the restaurant kitchen and have a chin wag with the chefs – and then think, how can I make this healthier and tastier?” she said.

Everything in Bunsters sauces is there for a reason, said Renae, with 11 different fruits and vegetables and no chemicals for a delicious rich sauce full of flavour, heat, vitamins and minerals.

“I eat this hot sauce every day so I made it with the healthiest ingredients I could find,” she said.

“I have a bigger goal of educating people about what’s in the food they eat while making them healthier at every meal.”

For all the commercial success the company has achieved, the rewarding feeling of seeing photos people have shared of an amazing range of foods topped with Bunsters sauces remains a strong motivator.

“Hearing that they’ve ditched their old favourite hot sauce, which was loaded with flavours, preservatives and fillers, and now they eat my healthy sauce packed with vitamins and nutrients gives me a real kick,” said Renae.

“Knowing I’m making people laugh is a nice feeling too.”

Beyond the sauce

Access to Australian Government funding through the EMDG scheme for the past two years has helped Bunsters with reimbursement of promotion costs like advertising, samples and IP registration and insurance.

Renae said she first heard about the EMDG scheme through the company contracted to manufacture Bunsters hot sauces in bulk.

“It’s helped us to be very active with our marketing budget in the USA and UK, plus we’re very hot on Facebook, so to get 50 per cent of that advertising money back is amazing,” she said.

“We worked through a fantastic consultant and had a very smooth experience. I highly recommend using one of the consultants listed on the Austrade website – it couldn’t have been easier!”

With an established presence in the USA and UK, and an online business delivering to other markets around the world, Bunsters is about to take a new step by expanding their range of products beyond hot sauce, and Renae couldn’t be more excited.

“It has taken ages to get it perfect but we're finally about to launch our Chilli Chocolate, which will mean we are no longer just a hot sauce company –  we'll now be a food company,” she said.

“I think even people who aren't chilli lovers will be blown away by the taste of this chocolate. It will win us a whole new set of fans.”

There are other things on the horizon for next year but Renae is cautious about giving out too much information.

“After all the delays we've experienced with the chocolate I’ve learned not to talk about our plans,” she said.

“We have a large following of very passionate people, so if I mention anything is on the horizon I get hounded non-stop by fans who are ravenous for our products!”

 RenaeBunster

Renae Bunster began making hot sauce in her kitchen and now ships her products all over the world.

Image credit: Lux Photography