Giraffe Food & Beverage Inc.

Turning Ontario into North American hot sauce hot spot

Established in 1997 in Burlington, Ont., Giraffe Food & Beverage Inc. (Giraffe Foods) began manufacturing juice and soda concentrates for restaurants and bars.

Expanding within the first few years by offering hot wing sauces, barbecue sauces, dips, and salad dressings, Giraffe Foods added to its already extensive line of products. As a result of continuous growth, Giraffe has expanded and moved its facilities twice in 10 years and now reside in Mississauga in its state-of-the-art manufacturing and research facility.

North American (hot) sauce (hot) spot

Ellen Hurwitz, Director of Research & Development at Giraffe Foods, says, “Although we began with the manufacture of beverage concentrates, we are seeing exponential growth in the sauce and dip category to include specialized and ethnic flavours as well as regional preferences across the U.S. and Canada.

Answering our customers’ need is what differentiates us from our competition by working together to create the products their customers demand. Our team of Food Technologists and Culinologists® develops sauces and recipes that meet their required customers’ specifications, whether they want a spicy, smoky or a unique flavour combination. Alternatively, if they want something quick and easy, we carry a full line of our own Gene’s™ branded products that include matches to the nationally recognized brands readily available in groceries and foodservice distributors.”

When discussing the creation of the Gene’s™ products, Hurwitz described the research process, “Creating a right sauce match – matching the brand name products – is an extremely difficult and complicated process with many attributes that have to be taken into consideration. We have to determine the exact type and the correct blend of key ingredients such as chili peppers and specific spices, continuing on to the processing, packing, and determining optimal shelf life and quality attributes for continued testing. Product development and matching is challenging and we feel confident that we have the right formula for success using key instrumentation and most importantly, the sensory abilities of all of the ‘foodies’ in our Culinary Innovation Centre.

“We ship our sauces throughout North America, across all levels of the food production chain. You can find our sauce in pouches with frozen wings, nuggets and appetizers as well as already coated on ribs and chicken for restaurant and supermarket chains. We also ship our sauces in bulk to the poultry and meat processors who then coat, freeze and pack a ready-to-cook entree as a private label item for supermarket chains and retailers. We distribute our sauces as far south as Louisiana, and enjoy the fact that Mississauga is one of the North American hot sauce hot spots.”

Science behind the success

Studies show that consumers are educating themselves in the food and nutrition area more than ever before and are turning to retailers and restaurants to meet their specific needs and requests in a rapidly changing environment. The team at Giraffe know that what’s “hot” today might be “not” tomorrow, so responding to trends and differentiating them from short-lived fads is where Giraffe Foods steps in. For instance, recognizing the trend for gluten-free products is real and growing. Giraffe has created a full line of sauces that are made without using any ingredients containing gluten, such as wheat, barley, oats and others. In addition, in response to the demand for reduced sugar and low carbohydrate claims, Giraffe offers Sugar Free Lemonade, Fruit Punch and Cranberry Concentrates as well as No Sugar Added Juice Concentrates for daycares and schools. Giraffe is also pleased to introduce a No Sugar Added Barbecue Sauce as well, containing a minimal amount of sugar from the natural sugars found in tomatoes and onions. The team of leading food scientists stands by to adapt and provide suitable solutions to ever-changing market needs. Other current areas of research include reducing sodium, replacing MSG and using natural flavours only to result in a “clean label” product.

Spicy business

Giraffe maintains a strong presence in the U.S. Eastern Seaboard as well as Eastern Canada with bag-in-box juices and sodas, jugged and pouched sauces and dips and cups for foodservice and retail. Currently, the company beverage segment represents about 40 per cent of the company business, producing juices and beverages for restaurant chains, as well as smoothies, sodas, soft drinks — even energy drinks and bar mixes. The sauce and dip category represents about 60 per cent of the sales and is continuously growing as a result of product line extensions and increased packaging options. The company’s new facility equipped with the state-of-the-art production technology allows Giraffe Foods to produce 50,000 litres of sauce and beverage concentrates daily. With this capacity, Giraffe Foods supplies sauce to major restaurant chains and retail supermarkets.

Owner and CEO Ari Powell says, “We supply mid-size to large wing and pizza chain restaurants throughout the U.S. and Canada that are experiencing internal growth because of the exceptional flavour of the sauces and dips. Customers demand flavour and we provide that, so they keep coming back for more, so to speak. The chains are primarily located in close proximity or right on the campus of schools and universities, where the younger generation enjoy wings on a regular basis, even during the summer months.”

Regarding their growth in Canada, Powell states, “Interestingly enough, as Canadian retailers recognize our ability to ‘recreate the restaurant experience at home’ by providing our exceptional foodservice sauces, we are realizing growth in Canada in the retail segment as we provide full-flavoured restaurant-style sauces such as Kung Pao and Hot Buffalo at supermarket prices and availability. Families can feel like they are dining out without spending the extra time and money, and travel, to enjoy the delicious flavour of their favourite wing places.”

Giraffe supports local business by searching Ontario first before seeking raw materials from outside Canada. Owner and Vice-President of Operations, Michelle Powell, states, “In an effort to support local businesses, we are working with farmers in the Niagara Region to cultivate and harvest the perfect peppers at just the right time and conditions to make our signature hot sauces. These peppers can be found around the world, but when the soil in Ontario is as favourable as it is, we are fortunate enough to look in our own backyard before importing. We source as many ingredients as we can from within Ontario and Canada before expanding the search to the U.S. to support local businesses as they support ours.”

As a consumer, you can find Giraffe Foods products all across the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean. These sauces and beverages most likely come to consumers under client’s label as a Private Label product. As an approved supplier to all major foodservice distributors, Giraffe Foods enjoys long-standing partnerships with clients such as Sysco, US Foodservice, Gordon Food Service (GFS), Performance Food Group, Vistar, Edward Don & Company, and many others.

Beyond food safety

Giraffe Foods holds several important food industry certifications. The company received HACCP certification, an internationally recognized system used to enhance food safety throughout food chains, aiming to prevent, reduce or eliminate potential food safety hazards. Giraffe Foods also holds a Site License with Health Canada in the Natural Health Product Directorate, enabling the company to manufacture fortified products such as energy drinks. Giraffe Foods also holds C–TPAT, Tier 2 status, contributing to safeguarding the world’s most vibrant trade from the threats of terrorism and protecting the economic health of the U.S. and its trade neighbors.

Giraffe Foods is also a member of various food organizations, such as Institute of Food Technologists which contributes to the advancements and critical developments in the field of food science; and Research Chefs Association, a leading community of pioneers in the food research and development — the discipline of Culinology®, blending culinary arts and the science of food.

Giraffe Foods supplies quality beverages, and delicious hot sauce, barbeque, Thai chili, Teriyaki and many other sauces across North American markets. The market for Giraffe Foods’ sauce burns red hot, and there are no signs of slowing down for this feisty family business that turned Ontario into one of the hottest hot sauce manufacturing spots in North America.