Sir Kensington’s is a New York-based gourmet condiments maker that offers all-natural, wholesome and delightful alternatives to the status quo. It all began in January, 2008, when co-founders Scott Norton and Mark Ramadan tried to create a gourmet alternative to Heinz and started tinkering with recipes in their off-campus apartment while they were students at Brown University. They even hosted “Ketchup-Tasting Parties” to poll their friends with blind taste tests.
Today, Sir Kensington’s monocle and mustache wax reside in New York’s SoHo district, where the brand’s condiment trifecta of ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard are headquartered — and now sold at retailers, restaurants and hotels across America and on its website. The company continues its tradition of daring innovation (Sriracha mayo, anyone?) in order to offer its faithful clientele sauces that are carefully sourced, prepared artfully and applied liberally. (Sir Kensington, we think, would be proud.)
brandchannel contributor Natalie Silverstein caught up with co-founder Scott Norton (above right) to chat more about the saucy yet dignified brand.
BC: Why condiments? Are you gunning to take the big brands down?
Norton: The big brands are taking themselves down! American food has been changing tremendously in past decade, but at our start we realized that condiments hadn’t really evolved in the last 70 years. We saw that every aisle of the supermarket was getting an upgrade to natural and organic products, that there was an interest in farm-to-table dining and grass fed beef, but ketchup was sorely left behind—and still laden with high fructose corn syrup.
We set out not to compete, but to create. We started by making a ketchup that was both in line with the way that we (and a growing number of people) wanted to eat, but also satisfied the special taste that people look for when they reach for a bottle.
BC: As a premium condiments brand, you choose your suppliers, restaurants and distributors very carefully. Can you explain how your trusted partners speak to the quality of the Sir Kensington’s brand?
Norton: At Sir Kensington’s, we have a set of values that govern how we make decisions, how we conduct ourselves and that shape the products that we’re proud to produce. Selecting our ingredient sources and partners is very much a part of these values.
When it comes to our suppliers, any chef will tell you that great food has to start with great ingredients. We take that ethos to heart for our condiments by using whole food ingredients that we select based on flavor and integrity. In terms of the restaurants, retailers, and distributors, we’re proud to work with partners who are progressive and savvy in offering customers better food.
BC: Premium quality is core to the Sir Kensington’s brand. How does your all-natural supply chain model serve as a positive brand and business builder?
Norton: Quality of our products and the ingredients we make them out of is absolutely paramount to what we do. It’s rooted in our own love and respect for food, and our values that speak to our responsibility in stewarding food forward.
In terms of its importance to our brand and business, shoppers and eaters have moved up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs since ketchup first went on shelves in the early 20th century. Now, the public is asking “why” and “how” – not just “what” and “how much.” Creating products that we believe in and are in line with our ethos allows us to cater to the growing legion of likeminded customers that understand that food is not just an industrial product—food is something special.
BC: You say, “You don’t launch it unless you know it will be better.” So how exactly do you know when you’ve found the next best thing?
Norton: I wish I could say we had a time-tested way to be absolutely sure, like finding the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. We do, though, have a process that’s rooted in our hobbyist beginnings. After we have our initial ideas for a condiment line, we do rapid prototyping in the form of kitchen samples. From there, we throw condiment-tasting parties for our friends, clients and confidants. Here, in a format of a crowdsourced focus group, we invite attendees to do a blind tasting and report their preferences on a scorecard so that we can determine what flavors are most compelling.
Our mission is to bring integrity and charm to ordinary and overlooked food. Whatever we ultimately launch has to pass the test of conforming to our mission and be aligned with our ethos of introducing that truly fills the unmet needs of customers, and isn’t just a “me too” product climbing on the latest ingredient craze. This way we can grow our line of timeless products to build a sustainable business.
BC: Sir Kensingon’s is sold everywhere from gourmet food shops to Whole Foods to restaurants and hotels. How important has it been for your brand to carve out space in the hospitality arena?
Norton: Restaurants are the theater of food. It’s where food can magically come to life in a curated context. That creates a special sensitivity for brands, and the ability to create lasting memories. Restaurants and hotels are incredibly important to us as customers, and we help them meet the standards they wish to uphold and the send message they wish to communicate. Restaurants are also a way for us to connect to the craft and creativity of food in the public sphere in a way that’s distinct from someone’s home kitchen, and this connection to professional creativity of chefs is one that we cherish.
BC: Bonus question: Do you plan to expand internationally any time soon?
Norton: There are 320 million condiment lovers under the stars and stripes, and we’re still largely unknown to most of them. We believe our products are widely deserved by our countrymen and are currently focused on growth here at home. Sir Kensington’s as a brand, too, has been developed to speak to the specific culture code of America. We get interest from importers, from Sweden to Singapore, but success abroad isn’t as simple as saying yes to them. So I think for now those reading this overseas will have to ask their friends to bring some over in their luggage.
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