Rebuilding broken High Street dreams

Mr Singh's family raise a toast

For most small businesses, appearing on a reality TV show is the stuff of dreams - especially if it leads to a contract with a major supermarket.

That's what the Sahota family thought in 2010 when their chilli sauce was picked up by Asda in front of millions of TV viewers on the BBC programme High Street Dreams.

The family shrieked with delight, and the tears flowed.

"We thought we had made it,' recalls Kuldip Singh Sahota. "But in reality getting the order was the easiest part," he adds.

In fact, within a year the company, Mr Singh's Sauce, had nearly gone under and is only now back on the road to success.

Made in the kitchen

The story starts in the mid-1980s, with a recipe for a chilli sauce perfected by Hardev Singh Sahota, made in the kitchen of the family's east London home.

The sauce was so popular with friends and relatives that Hardev began to sell small quantities locally.

The problem was that both manufacturing and sales were hard work, and the business never really got off the ground.

Mr Singh's at a trade show The company built up a following by taking their product to trade shows

In 2008 Hardev's eldest son, Kuldip, decided it was make-or-break time. Without telling anyone, he paid £1,000 on his credit card to buy a stand at a BBC Good Food show in London.

He then told his family, revealing they would need to produce and sell 1,000 bottles to make their money back.

It was a tough challenge. The family would need to source bottles, print packaging and find enough time alongside their day jobs to make enough sauce. And they had just over a week to do it all.

"Everyone got involved and started to make the sauce," Kuldip says. "My dad didn't know how to make it on a bigger scale, so we figured it out over nine days - we were selling boiling hot bottles on the first day of the show."

The gamble paid off. The sauce sold out before the show ended.

Four food fairs later, all with the same result, the family started to sense a serious business opportunity.

High Street Dreams

By 2010, the Sahotas' burgeoning business had caught the attention of producers working on a new BBC show called High Street Dreams. It offered small businesses the chance to work with a successful entrepreneur on their product, with a view to pitching to a real supermarket buyer.

Start Quote

I spent two Christmas Eves in a row with my head in my hands, crying, because I ran out of money, or wasn't selling enough”

End Quote Kuldip Sahota Mr Singh's

The Sahotas not only won the chance to appear, but also persuaded perfume mogul Jo Malone to let them pitch their rebranded sauce to Asda.

"We stayed up for three days preparing for that pitch," Kuldip recalls.

Millions of TV viewers watched as the Asda buyer offered the Sahotas the chance to distribute their product through its stores.

"We are going to start small, and then the world is your oyster, in terms of how quickly and how much you can grow," the buyer told the Sahotas.

The family was thrilled. The problem, though, was that they had given no thought as to how they might fulfil the order.

Dream goes sour

For a while they worked around the clock at their home, in the kitchen and later in the shed, but quickly realised they could never produce enough.

And even when they belatedly decided to outsource manufacturing, there were more problems.

"We created a product we loved, and we wanted to maintain the quality," Kuldip says.

"But to find someone who wanted to match that enthusiasm and produce a product we were happy with was nigh on impossible. They wanted to add in all these bits and pieces to stabilise it and make it easier to produce."

Working in the garden The family struggled to keep up with demand in the early days

Within nine months the Asda contract had fizzled out.

Things then got worse. At one point the company invested heavily in 10,000 bottles from China that were of such poor quality they had to be thrown away.

Throughout most of 2011 and 2012 the family struggled to keep the dream alive. Kuldip had maxed out his credit cards to keep the business going, and was tens of thousands of pounds in debt.

"I spent two Christmas Eves in a row with my head in my hands, crying, because I ran out of money, or wasn't selling enough," he remembers.

Angels appear

The Sahotas' luck turned again in late 2012.

Chastened by their earlier experience, the family started to talk to outside investors, and finally found a manufacturer in Cambridge they trusted.

The sauce also started to attract favourable attention from influential food writers.

In March 2013 Kuldip raised a sum in the "low six figures" from three angel investors, money that allowed Hardev, Kuldip and his brother Sukhi to go full-time.

Today Mr Singh's sauces are stocked in Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, and hundreds of independent retailers across the country.

They are even reappearing on supermarket shelves, this time in Tesco.

Looking back, Kuldip describes his family's short TV career as a "double-edged sword".

"It was a fantastic opportunity for us, and it taught us about why we were doing what we were doing," he says.

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories


BBC Business Live

    RUSSIAN SANCTIONS 08:05: BBC Radio 4

    One more from Malcolm Bracken on Today. He doesn't mince his words. He says: "Putin has looted an enormous amount of money from the Russian people." Mr Bracken adds he doesn't think the aim of sanctions will be to "devastate the Russia economy or isolate it from the world." But squeezing "the cronies" will be language Mr Putin can understand, he says.

    NEXT PROFITS 07:53:
    Woman in picture

    Next also has results. First half profits at the clothing and homeware retailer rose 10.7%. Next tells investors to stand by for better profits of between £775m and £815m. Sales at the physical stores were up 7.5% and through the Next Directory were 16.2% higher.

    BP PROFITS 07:43:

    BP says rising oil and gas production from new or recently started projects led to increased processing of heavy crude oil by the newly-modernised Whiting refinery contributed to operating cash flow of $7.9bn in the quarter. Total operating cash flow for the first half of 2014 was $16.1bn.

    RUSSIAN SANCTIONS 07:36: BBC Radio 4

    The purpose of sanctions is to target the regime and [Russian president] Putin's cronies, not really the Russian people, Malcolm Bracken, analyst at Redmayne Bentley, tells the Today programme. "The mismatch," he says "Is that Russia needs German money from gas sales even more than Germany needs Russia gas." Germany can get its gas from countries other than Russia, he adds. But Putin can impose far greater economic pain on his people than Angela Merkel can on hers.

    Signage for Morrisons supermarket on a trolley handle

    There's confirmation that former Tesco finance director Andrew Higginson will become the the new chairman of rival supermarket Morrison's when Sir Ian Gibson retires in 2015. Mr Higginson will join the board on 1 October as non-executive deputy chairman. He was finance director at Tesco between 1997 and 2012. He is currently chairman of Poundland, N Brown Group and McCurrach UK as well as a non-executive director at BSkyB.

    BP PROFITS 07:17:
    British Petroleum sign

    BP has reported profits (second-quarter replacement cost profit - which strips out the effect of oil price movements) of $3.2bn, compared with $2.4bn a year earlier.

    BIG CHEESE 07:13: BBC Breakfast

    The biggest event in the global cheese calendar starts today in Nantwich in Cheshire. Steph McGovern is at the International Cheese Fair for Breakfast along with the 4,500 cheeses there. Andrew Loftus, agriculture manager for Morrison's supermarkets says: "Customers need a big variety, the block cheese, the cheddars, but we also have our own range that we cut and grate in our factories."

    BANKING ETHICS 07:03: Radio 5 live

    Control Risks' Charles Hecker on Wake Up to Money pulls together the two big topics of the morning - Russia and banking ethics. He says it's the ethics that attract them: "There is a reason why the British banking sector is by a mile the preferred destination for Russian financial transactions. It's seen as transparent and liquid market that is well regulated and is seen as clean." And they also like the flight time and the restaurants, he says.

    UBS RESULTS 06:53:
    The logo of Swiss bank UBS

    Swiss bank UBS reports second quarter net profit of 792m Swiss francs (£516m), up from 690m francs last time. Results were whacked last year by a $885m settlement with the US housing regulator over the mis-selling of mortgage-backed bonds. The bank has still had to set aside 254m euros (£165.4m) this year, mainly to settle legal claims that it helped wealthy Germans to dodge taxes.

    RUSSIAN SANCTIONS 06:41: BBC Radio 4

    In case you were wondering why sanctions were back on the news menu, last week, European leaders agreed there should be tougher sanctions on Russia after Ukrainian separatists brought down Malaysia Airlines MH17. This week they decide what sanctions should be applied and against whom or what.

    BANKING ETHICS 06:31: Radio 5 live
    Triumph of Virtue and Nobility

    Would getting bankers to swear an oath promising good behaviour work? That's a suggestion by one think tank, ResPublica. It wants to introduce "Virtuous Banking". But the chairman of the Banking Standards Review Council, Sir Richard Lambert, tells Wake Up to Money an oath won't help to bring that about.

    GAS GUZZLER 06:21:
    Mayor of London Boris Johnson

    London mayor Boris Johnson wants the drivers of diesel cars to pay an extra £10 - on top of the congestion charge it should be noted - for the pleasure of driving into the centre of the capital according to a report in the Daily Mail today. Other cities are also considering introducing low-emission zones to crack down on diesel fumes. These cars were once encouraged as being less polluting...

    RUSSIAN SANCTIONS 06:08: Radio 5 live

    More from Charles Hecker. He tells Wake Up to Money: "I don't think anybody is that keen on sanctions that are going to impact on their own economic sectors." Part of the problem with European sanctions against Russia is the French have defence deals with Russia, there is a substantial amount of Russia money in the UK's financial services sector and Germany has energy deals with Russia, he adds

    RUSSIAN SANCTIONS 06:01: Radio 5 live

    Charles Hecker of consultancy Control Risks tells Wake Up to Money targeted sanctions, whether against sectors of the Russian economy or against individuals, would have a potential impact and suggests the Russian economy is already teetering on the edge of recession. But he adds both Cuba and Iran have been subject to far more stringent sanctions and that further sanctions against Russia are unlikely to change the country's behaviour.

    06:00: Rebecca Marston Business reporter, BBC News

    Yes, we're back. And we're here: @bbcbusiness - should you wish to get in touch.

    06.00: Matthew West Business Reporter

    Morning everyone. Yesterday afternoon we had a £218m fine for Lloyds for its part in the 2012 Libor scandal, while the think-tank ResPublica has suggested this morning bankers should take an oath - a bit like doctors - to fulfil their "proper moral and economic purpose". We also have second quarter trading updates from BP and Next this morning, plus more on Russian sanctions.



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.