Interview with Tanya Robertson-Lambert – Founder of The Saucy Affair
In the third of our series of Female Food Founders we meet the Founder of The Saucy Affair Raw Sauce Company who make a range of raw sauces packed with delicious fresh herbs, fruit & vegetables. Our co-founder, Mecca Ibrahim, chatted with Tanya Robertson-Lambert Founder of The Saucy Affair to discover the very colourful journey of her mission to give every meal saucy appeal.
How did you start off with The Saucy Affair?
My journey started in 2007 when I was working for my father’s company in the energy industry. I met my husband in 2009 through that role. I was blessed to get pregnant in 2011 and I thought I would go straight back into work after 3 months, but even though I was career driven, I tried and cried every day. So we decided to have another child and I had my son and I stepped away from the business to be a full time mum. In that interim period the person who had been looking after the business wasn’t really used to dealing with businesses like ours and the business dropped from a 40 million turnover to 6 million!
I came back into my father’s business, which was difficult as the company had so much debt. We negotiated for while, but unfortunately had to make a lot of people redundant. It was a hugely difficult time for me and I was at breaking point, as on top of this I had a history of mental health problems. I gave it my best shot trying to save the company, but those three months were so very hard to cope with. In the end, I knew I needed a new direction as I was broken and went on gardening leave in 2015.
Where did your signature look of black dress and the mask (also featured on your packaging) come from?
I had an eating disorder when I was 8 years old and my parents were starting to split up. The first thing that came away were family meals. After that break down I mentioned when trying to save the energy company, I was walking down the high street and for the first time in about three years, I saw a dress in a charity shop window that was just for ME. Wearing it, I could see the me before children, the me before my career, the me before all of that stress in working with my father’s company.
I will always look back on the very rocky period in my life when I went into re-hab at 21 as a result of a incredibly traumatic incident, which when coupled with my eating disorder, meant I needed help. It was a period I will always remember but it’s about remembering it now and not living it. When I came out of re-hab I went to see Phantom of The Opera. It was a big moment of clarity as I accept my Phantom and can face my fears, it’s part of my self healing process.
When I had recuperated a bit I actually got offered a series of very good jobs in the energy industry, but I decided I wasn’t interested and wanted to something I loved. I have always loved cooking and I wanted to do something for my children too. I wanted to help people and was fascinated by the immense connection between gut health and mental health. I really wanted to make life easier for people who deal with the same pressures and want to make something from scratch.
How do you move from the concept to setting up your company?
I met the engineering team from Sodexo and they thought my initial dressings were a good idea. I was making the product from home. All I had was the name, I left the meeting and founded the business in the carpark after that meeting.
Over the course of the next three months, I did a lot of research looking at how dressings sell and why would parents pick these up for their children, rather than make them themselves. That’s when I decided to load the dressings up with fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs and make sure they were free from all 14 allergens.
How was your first time showing your product to the public?
I went to my first trade show The Allergy Show with my home made products in 2016. They were all hand labelled and I was approached by the likes of Costco, Asda and Tesco and they said no one else is doing what you’re doing. It’s a chilled product but it hadn’t been pasteurised. I was making batches of dressings at home and my first manufacturer wanted me to pasteurise the product. But the equipment wasn’t right for the product. It couldn’t be pasteurised as it took out all of the flavour, the texture and the goodness.
How were you able to move into commercialisation of your products?
I ran out of money in this quest to find the right manufacturer. In 2017 I ran a crowdfunding campaign and raised £57,000 to be able to do mass production through the HPP process. Raising this amount stretched every aspect of my capacity because you are on it 24/7. I did most of my networking and fundraising through LinkedIn and that’s how I got into Sainsbury’s.
You were one of the first food companies to work with Amazon Fresh, tell us how that went?
I launched with them in 2018. They said they weren’t that great when they started, but I needed to get my products out there in more places. But we weren’t achieving the right profit margins, it was too costly and after two months we pulled out. So I re-approached supermarkets and major retailers. But as we were a new category or a “challenger brand” the retailers didn’t know where to put us.
You made your big retailer break in Sainsbury’s, how did this come about?
Ironically, Sainsbury’s first seriously contacted me by email when I was in a meeting with Tesco. Their new category director in chilled wanted to meet me. She was a working mum and it turned out she lived 10 minutes up the road from me. We had lunch and she loved the products. We were able to launch with Sainsbury’s in August 2018. They put us across 10 major store positions to understand where the product was best placed. We really wanted to be in the fresh produce area which is by the fruit and veg, as an area for inspiration. But it wasn’t until January of 2019 that we got into that area.
You are now working with chefs and testing your products with them, why did you decide to do this?
One of the pieces of feedback we were getting from people was that our product wasn’t shouting freshness, it wasn’t shouting clean. So I have been spending the last three months trying to unlock opportunities in the food services industry and getting feedback from them. Working with chefs seemed a good route and we sent the products to more than 50 chefs. We have made some videos with Ruth Hansom, who is a very talented chef and gets the idea of our sauces and can rely on them being safe for people with any allergies.
We hear you are now moving out of Sainsbury’s and re-launching your products in January 2020, can you tell us more?
Our new packaging and products are designed to appeal to parents and children. We will be doing a road-show before we go back into stores. We are going in with a three pronged product proposition not just sauces. There will be a dip range, a dressing range and sauces. All of them will have the same parameters of no added sugar, no added salt and using totally fresh ingredients.
Are you keeping the name?
It will be called Tanya’s Saucy Affair. This is to personalise it as so much of my products are driven by my story. My brand agency said I needed to have a bigger role on the packaging as people had been buying products due to me. I am like a lot of other people out there who I hope will be able to relate to my story.
What are some of the trends that you’re seeing in food?
Any individual in today’s society could have eating problems I feel. There are so many ultra processed foods in the snacking world. When we are busy we want to snack, those snacking products are often much cheaper. The government has a part to play in this by trying to help make good un-processed products cheaper. Another key element with our product is food waste and sustainability. In kitchens and households, you are not wasting food as you’re using the whole bottle and you’re not having to wash vegetables either, so are saving a small amount of water too.
What’s one piece of advice you’d like to give to would be food entrepreneurs?
Any entrepreneur has good and bad days. I have found that one in 10 days of being an entrepreneur is your only good day and you’ve got to focus on that only good day. You know it will come again, do remember that and focus on it.
You can find The Saucy Affair online and look out for their re-launch in January 2020.
We will have more interviews with the female founders of food businesses in the coming weeks. In the meantime you can read our interview with Anishya Kumar the founder of Zinda Foods & the AirWrap and our interview with Juliet Barrett co-founder of Grenade.