We recently had the opportunity to catch up with General’s Hot Sauce founder Dan Ballister. General’s Hot Sauce is a fairly new entry into the hot sauce market, but it isn’t more of the same if you ask the man responsible for bringing it to the market. “We believe that our product is the single best product on the market from a quality and taste perspective. By making our sauce from 90% aged cayenne peppers, this lets us create a taste and level of quality that cannot be replicated by our competitors” said Ballister.
Why can this unique flavor not be matched by competitors? “It all begins with the fact that all of our peppers are grown in Louisiana. Most of our competitors import peppers from Mexico and Central and South America. We control the seeds, the watering, the soil – everything.” Ballister continued “I like to say that we control everything but the weather.” With such a firm grasp on quality control, it comes as no surprise that this up and coming company has experienced immediate success.
So, who is the man behind this success story? Dan Ballister grew up in Western New York before attending the US Naval Academy. After five years of service in the US Navy, Dan began a career in business and advertising. Along the way he always felt that he brought an entrepreneur’s mentality to the workplace. “The entrepreneurial spirit has always stayed alive throughout my career, leading me to the beginning of the General’s Hot Sauce company.”
It was at the Army-Navy football game in 2012 during a pregame tailgate that the idea for General’s Hot Sauce was conceived. As Dan explained “We have a close friend who is a USMC General who we felt deserved his own hot sauce. He made wings frequently for friends and family and it really inspired us to honor him with his own hot sauce.” Beyond honoring their friend, the men behind General’s Hot Sauce also wanted to support military-oriented causes along the way. “Instead of simply writing checks to support various military causes, we wanted to create a company that donates even more to military-oriented organizations. Basically, our vision was to create, from a donation perspective, a self-watering plant.”
The owners behind General’s Hot Sauce have followed through on this, pledging a meaningful percentage of their sales to military organizations. Despite operating at a loss due to initial startup costs, the General’s Hot Sauce company has made several donations to various organizations in support of military initiatives.
“Paws4Vets is one organization that we have supported. This organization provides service dogs for vets. These dogs are companion dogs for veterans with PTSD. We donated a sum recently to support the growth and training of a dog named Ozzie. Another organization we have worked with is The Mission Continues. This organization helps returning servicemen and women as they transition into life after the military. One more is the TD Foundation. This is named after Tom Dearline who served abroad and was shot while deployed. Initially the foundation was designed to funnel resources to children in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they have changed their mission to instead help military families here at home.”
As the company continues to grow, the plan is to continue making donations throughout. How much money is actually going to the military organizations? There is no set in stone figure or percentage, but instead a general guideline that the company follows. “To put it shortly, we strive to give away as much as possible. I want to have enough money to pay the bills, be able to set aside money for company growth and then give the rest away” said Ballister. He continued, saying “We strive to be very transparent in how we do this. We have an audit board being formed that will be comprised of senior military individuals.”
With such an emphasis placed on supporting military organizations through charitable donations, it comes as no surprise that Ballister is quick to note that his experience in the military has set the foundation for the way General’s Hot Sauce operates. “We have a company motto that the mission is bigger than the people within it. This is very similar to how the military operates. We never want to deviate from the mission: make the best hot sauce. Also remember to support the military along the way and don’t settle for anything less.”
Aside from his own time serving in military, Dan also noted that the General for whom the sauce was named has provided inspiration for how the company conducts business. “Outside of my personal military experience setting the foundation for how we operate, the selfless leadership exhibited by the general who the sauce is named after has also inspired our motto and how we operate.”
Despite the obvious passion that the General’s Hot Sauce company has for supporting military initiatives, the owners are equally excited about the sauce in the bottle. As Dan explained, “All of our investors and owners are spicy food fans. Growing up in the Buffalo, NY area, where wings were actually invented, I have been eating wings from a very young age and I have continued to throughout my adult life. My love of wings provided some of the inspiration for the hot sauce business.”
Starting the hot sauce business was not easy, however. “It took us two and a half years to develop the product, production, and packaging and then maneuver the regulatory loopholes” said Ballister. Throughout it all, their passion for supporting the military inspired them to press on. “The company started with a great story. We control the entire production process, the sauce is American made, and it’s a great product with a cool package. Throughout all of that, the story backing the company has kept us afloat.”
Now that General’s Hot Sauce is really taking off, the company no longer has to rely on their story to sell the product. That is because the product in the bottle is exceptional. With a tasty product to offer, General’s Hot Sauce is moving away from word of mouth marketing and developing an e-commerce business as well as forming partnerships. “We are forming partnerships with companies like US Patriot. We want to form the right partnerships though – we care about companies that align with our corporate values” explained Ballister.
As of now, General’s Hot Sauce is not a product with broad distribution. As Dan explained “We do not have broad distribution as of today. That is simply because we don’t have the supply to support large partnerships at this time. We are focusing on that over the next 6-12 months.” With plans for broad distribution in the near future, it would be natural to wonder if they plan to expand their offerings beyond the three sauces that they currently make.
There are in fact plans to expand their offerings, and the plans extend beyond traditional hot sauce. As Ballister explained, “We would like to offer one new pepper flavor per year, starting next year. We also have plans to incorporate some different packaging that is still interesting and unique. We are also exploring the idea of using the left over fermented mash for other products as well. The mash can be infused into other products and it provides a unique taste that is unable to be replicated. What we are really after is a zero waste production process.”
With several products currently on the market and more in the works, we sought to discover where the sauce really shines. According to Dan, you can use it on virtually everything: “We have an unofficial company policy that you put it on everything except ice cream.” In reality, Dan explained that there is one item that it really shines on, and several others that customers have reported enjoying it on. “The top of the mountain will always be wings. Other things like breakfast, BBQ and Mexican food are some other items that we have heard our customers like to use it on.”
As the company continues to grow, General’s Hot Sauce takes an unconventional approach to marketing and research by leaning on higher education. General’s Hot Sauce has partnerships with the Marketing program at the University of South Carolina as well as with the LSU AgCenter. As Dan put it, “these programs have been a tremendous resource for market study, market research and more.” He continued, “The marketing department at South Carolina has also conducted broad category research and developed ways to position the brand. We have been given logo ideas, marketing ideas, packaging ideas and more. We have adopted many of these over time.”
When asked why the company would rely on college students for ideas and research, the answer was simple. “Our partnerships are the product of pre-existing relationships within the schools through several of our founders. In working with college students, we found that an incredible amount of energy, knowledge and talent was within the youthful movement and it led us to form our partnerships from there.”
Having so much interaction with the youth movement, it stands to reason that Dan would become an inspiration to those who aspire to one day own their own business. When asked what advice he would provide to them, Dan’s answer was simple: “First and foremost, everyone talks about it, but not many people do it. I would encourage those individuals to fight through the excuses and go for it. Number two, the time to do it is when you are young. We always say that the difference between a million dollar idea and a million dollar business is execution. Everyone can see it, but not everyone can see it through.”
To close our discussion, Ballister called for other companies to follow their lead in support of the military and its veterans. “One of the things that we want is for other companies to copy our mission. Gary Sinise is quoted as saying that ‘we can never do enough for our veterans.’” “No matter what we do for vets, it isn’t enough. We really want many other companies to follow our lead and chase similar causes.”
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.