There’ll be a Hot Time in the Old Town (Cartagena de Indias) Tonight: Amazon Pepper Sauces

Comexa Foods is the producer of the world-renowned Amazon Peppers brand of sauces, located in the old world city of Cartagena de Indias. Bathed in the sun and by the warm clear waters of the Caribbean Sea, the rich Colombian soil produces a wide range of peppers which our group has been cultivating and processing industrially in large quantities for the world market since 1992.

Utilizing Comexa’s years of experience and knowledge of the unique qualities of capsicum, the Amazon Pepper brand was born in early 1994. The product made its successful debut at the Fiery Food Show in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The distinctive flavor of the Amazon hot sauces came about by accident. In the 1970s, Giorgio Araujo’s family was growing peppers and an unplanned cross-pollination produced the Amazon pepper that has been the foundation of all Comexa’s hot sauces.

The company adapted its sauces to an ever-increasing variety of palates, expanding from its original green and red hot sauces to a large variety of flavors such as the new fruit pepper sauces (Amazon Korozo Sauce, Amazon Palmberry sauce, Amazon Cape Gooseberry Sauce) and many other great products.

“We’ve had a burst of creativity, coming up with a whole new line of products,’’says Mr. Araujo, the company’s founder. “We work on the basis that the more products you have the more chances you have to sell them.”

At the 1995 New York Fancy Food show, the Amazon Pepper Line won the “Best of the Aisle” award by Gourmet Retailer. During the 1997 Foodex Show in Tokyo, the Amazon Pepper line received the acclaim of the Japanese TV news media “for an outstanding hot pepper product line,” being featured on prime time Tokyo television on the program called “Televi Champion,” on which the Amazon brand Habanero Sauce, won the “Hottest Pepper of the World Award.”

During the Food Distribution Magazine’s (FDM) First Annual BBQ & Wing Sauce Showdown Hoedown!, held in June 1997, the Amazon Pepper brand won two first prize awards: first place in the “Fruit- Based Hot Category” for its Amazon Hot & Sweet, and first place in the “Wing Sauce Xhot (Yow),” for its Amazon Fiery Red.

Show after show, people continue acclaiming Amazon pepper sauces as an out of competition product. In January 1999, at the Chile Pepper Magazine Hot Sauce contest “Scoville Awards,” the Hot n’ Sweet Amazon Sauce was awarded first prize and the Green Amazon Sauce third prize.

The Amazon Pepper Line is currently being sold in the United States, the Middle East, Japan, Chile, Canada, Belgium, Finland, France, Spain, El Salvador, and of course, in Colombia where Amazon is the leading brand.

In October 2000, the company received its highest honor with the “National Exporters President’s Award.” During 2002 the plant was certified HACCP and ISO 9002 complying with all international quality standards and at the moment is working towards BRC certification.

Our products have been certified kosher by the Orthodox Union since 1999. This accreditation has played a very important role in increasing the sales of our Amazon pepper sauces; it has enhanced our ability to market our products as the OU Kosher symbol has become an increasingly important marketing device which has opened many doors for the Amazon Pepper Line in supermarket chains and gourmet stores.

We have come to realize that our OU certification has been as important for us as the HACCP and ISO 9002. The OU Kosher certificate has generated additional revenues by expanding the size of the market. Now after 10 years of being OU certified, we are one hundred percent positive that supermarkets favor brands with OU certification because it gives the product a competitive edge that makes it sell quickly; we have taken full advantage of such an important certification.

Currently in line with Colombian exports in general, the company sells sixty percent of its total exports to the United States. The business plan has been to market the product to Hispanics in the United States, but also to non-Hispanics as a gourmet product. While the gourmet route may be necessary in order to push the brand forward and to start word of mouth, the downside is that it often results in lower sales.

Now, after almost 20 years in which the company trudged through American, Middle East and European food shows and sold its sauces in gourmet stores, food distributors are picking the product up and the brand is expanding throughout the world.

“We hope to be in every country with our delicious kosher Amazon pepper sauces,’’ Mr. Araujo says. Given the company’s limited resources, Mr. Araujo has concentrated on pushing his product forward, emphasizing international food shows as well as the Internet. His message is: “Flavor your mood from mild to wild!”

Rabbi David Gorelik serves as Orthodox Union rabbinic coordinator for Comexa Foods.