Talking to Jacksonville entrepreneur Dan Raneri about Raneri's Gourmet foods
1. Tell us about Raneri's Gourmet.
I've been a tinkering chef for many years now. I do a lot of cooking and sharing of meals with friends and co-workers. Everyone likes what I do. When I bring something into work people are lining up to try it. Raneri's Gourmet was founded off a co-worker's dare. There are a few BBQ places that we like and being foodies we like to figure out ingredients. My co-worker asked if I could decode the sauce for one place in particular. It turned out that I made it better. One thing led to another and here I am.
I wanted to focus on gourmet things that had natural ingredients and good taste. I also wanted something that was both unique and that would enhance, or finish, a dining experience. It had to be something people couldn't get everyday, but if they could, it would be under the Raneri's Gourmet label.
2. How many sauces do you have now?
Originally it was just a barbecue sauce. During the formulation period I was creating new batches and sharing them with friends and family to get input. At one point my daughter told me that she and her husband had tried it on steak and they thought it was really good. So, our steak sauce was born. I was going after one product and ended up with two.
3. How do you differentiate your sauces?
If you go to a grocery store you'll see hundreds of different choices. Most of the labels are very dark. A lot of them have pictures, but even those are dark. My labels will pop out visually on a shelf. And the first thing you'll see is that my sauces are all natural and contain no sugar.
4. How did you develop your sauce recipes?
I usually try to find a good base recipe. Then you build upon that. Sometimes we just start with an idea and put 1 and 1 and 1 together and we come up with 6. Then we build on that. We normally start formulating with very small batches so that we don't waste a lot of product and then scale up from there once you have something that you can repeatably make and that tastes good.
5. Can you describe your barbecue sauce?
It has a kind of Carolina flavor with a yellow mustard and vinegar base. We enhance it with a lot of spices you would find in most rubs. With this unique combination we have a sauce that not only tastes good, but it has a little texture to it. That's a little different than most sauces, which are usually smooth and creamy.
6. How is it typically used in cooking?
Some will thin it out with a little vinegar and use it to baste the meat while cooking. I've put it on ribs during the last couple of turns of the ribs. A lot of people also use it as a dipping sauce or on sandwiches. I have one friend who's kid loves it so much that he puts in on plain macaroni and eats it just like that.
7. Are you finding that people are coming up with creative ways to use the sauce that you didn't initially think about?
Yes. We're currently working on a formulation for a hot barbecue sauce. My son works at a pizza parlor and when I gave him a bottle of the hot barbecue sauce he made a pizza with the sauce as the base. He then added some chicken and onions and bell peppers. It was pretty tasty. One of our avenues may be to have a Raneri's Gourmet sauce for one of the local pizza places.
8. Can you tell us about your steak sauce?
The steak sauce is a little different. You don't find a lot of mustard-vinegar based steak sauces. A lot of the gourmet restaurants will have a mustard sauce but not so much a mustard-vinegar steak sauce. We use key ingredients such as paprika, chili and other spices that give it a really unique depth of flavor that enhances the meat. I don't put a lot of sauces on steak, but occasionally I do, and I know some people who like to put sauce all over their steak. It does enhance the flavor of the steak.
There are a couple of local sandwich places that feature steak in a sack and it would be excellent with that.
9. Can you tell us about your hot barbecue sauce? Will it also be mustard based?
Yes, it will be the exact formulation of the current barbecue sauce, but with the addition of ghost pepper.
…what's ghost pepper?
It's the second hottest pepper on the planet. It used to be the hottest until about a year ago when they found something in South America that's twice as hot. A ghost pepper is about 1 million Scovilles on the heat scale.
…what's a Scoville?
It's a measure of chili pepper heat. So, for example, a jalapeño is about 3,000 on the Scoville scale.
The reason why I chose the ghost pepper not only for the heat but that it has a very black pepper flavor. When it hits your palate it spreads across very evenly - it's a very intense heat, but then it dissipates very quickly. It's all in the mouth and doesn't go down your throat. The experience is right up front in your face but it dissipates. The reason why we're not further along in the process is that we've learned that even with a little bit of ghost pepper in the barbecue sauce, over time it gets hotter. For example, in the formulation of a gallon I use 2 tenths of an ounce of ghost pepper. The first day, it's very good. The second day, it's a little hotter but still okay. The third day, the heat's in and you're thinking "this is perfect." A month later you can't eat it. So we're tailoring back the amount.
In the powdered form that it comes in the ghost pepper is very hazardous and you have to respect it. There are crazy people who do stupid things with it but I believe it could kill you if misused. I use rubber gloves, eye protection and a 3M mask when I'm measuring it. When I incorporate it into the sauce it's done in a manner so that no pepper gets airborne.
10. How long do you think it will take to get the heat right?
We're fairly far along. It will probably take another six months or so.
11. How long do most new ideas take to come out?
The barbecue sauce took 11 months. Part of that is tweaking the product. Part is the market survey by sharing the product with others and getting feedback, then incorporating the feedback and tweaking a little more. At some point you get to a place where you need to execute and launch.
12. What's the biggest challenge of launching your sauces?
Finance has something to do with it. If you have a lot of money for marketing you can speed things up. We're going slower because I want to develop something that's sustainable. We're also working on ways to increase exposure by introducing our sauce to magazine editors and others.
13. Who's the audience for your sauces?
I'd say everyone. My brother's cafe out in Arizona uses it in their cooking. Sometimes they'll have a special deal on something like bratwurst that features my sauce on the bratwurst sandwich. I can see pizza restaurants using the sauce. We'll also do private labeling for restaurants who like our product and want to work with us - my product and their label.
14. Are you looking to expand to a line of sauces?
More of a line of food products, starting with the sauces as our flagship. I have ideas for an Italian biscotti cookie. I have my own unique take I call a Twisted Biscotti. They're not twice baked. That came about because my Dad really likes biscottis. He's up there in age so I used sliced almonds as opposed to whole almonds and I do things a little differently to make them easier for him to enjoy. I haven't found one person that could eat just one. If I put a plate down, they're gone. When I bring them into work I have people who hoard them. So, I think that might be something pretty easy to market.
15. Have you started to commercialize your Twisted Biscotti?
I want to get the sauces on a firmer foundation, but the Twisted Biscotti are certainly in line with the direction for Raneri's Gourmet. We're currently looking for a local baker who can take us on.
16. Can we buy your sauces locally?
Pinegrove Market carries both our sauces. They had some tasting samples with their customers to see what they thought, and that's the reason I'm on their shelves - because people were very favorable about what they experienced.
17. How else can people buy the sauces?
We sell them on our website. We will also be doing local shows like Riverside Arts Market.
18. Any chance we'll be seeing Raneri's Gourmet in places like Publix?
Grocery stores have processes that takes 3-4 months and we've started on that. We're only in our 3rd month of production so it will take some more time.