Community Resources Help Create A Better BBQ Sauce

Published 3:34 pm Tuesday, November 26, 2013

In 2009 when Prince Edward County designed upgrades to their cannery to develop a commercial kitchen and applied for a Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Grant, Eddie Ward bought a smoker and started looking for a sauce for barbeque. Finding no vinegar based sauces available in the local market; Ward began to experiment with sauce recipes.

“With divine inspiration and creative input from my son, I created an orange mild sauce which later led to spicier versions,” Ward said.

In 2010, Prince Edward County received a $350,000 Agribusiness Grant through the Tobacco Commission allowing improvements to be made at the cannery. It was inspected by VDACS and approved as a commercial kitchen. That same year, Ward continued his experimentation with sauces on smoked venison and pork.

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During 2011, Prince Edward County began seeing interest in food business development. They provided enrollment to a better process control school, certification course, and facility training to eight potential food business clients through a partnership with Virginia Tech Food Science Department and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. In addition, Prince Edward began consulting with agricultural producers and entrepreneurs in the region to address regulatory processes. A partnership was formed with Virginia State University for educational classes, such as, Label Design and Marketing, as well as, How to Start a Food Business.

Meanwhile, in the face of changing employment, Eddie contemplated his career future. “I did what I always do, he said. “I prayed and clearly heard – market your sauce.”

Around the end of 2011, Eddie’s longtime acquaintance, Marty Shute, recommended that he contact Alecia Daves-Johnson project manager for the Prince Edward Cannery/Commerical Kitchen.

By 2012 the Virginia Food Works, a non-profit business with a mission to bring local food to the marketplace, was hired to oversee commercial operations of the Prince Edward Cannery and Commercial Kitchen. Simultaneously, on the barbeque front, five more flavors of barbeque sauce and three wild game sauces were created by Ward. He started serving Mild, Medium, Lime, More Heat, Lime Heat, Heat and Sassy on smoked pork samples at farmer’s markets as market research.

After serving approximately 1,300 pounds of pulled pork with an 80-90% public approval rating, Ward decided to acquire inspection and approval from VDACS near the end of 2012.

Earlier that year, Ward had taken the FDA Better Process Control School Online from University of California and submitted his recipes to Dr. Karleigh Bacon at Virginia Tech Food Science Department for process authority approval. He began increasing recipes to commercial proportions and started by processing ten gallons of Lime sauce at the cannery for research. Then he completed the applications to the FDA and VDACS.

While preparing sauces in a small kitchen during the market study phase, Eddie began contemplating quantities and facilities needed for commercial production. He concluded that the Prince Edward Commercial Kitchen was the only logical solution to meet his processing and distribution goals. Ward received much encouragement from Allie Hill, executive director of Virginia Food Works, Alecia Daves-Johnson, and many artisans and producers in the local area. At the Cannery, he met with Daves-Johnson to learn more about available food business support services offered including label printers and applicators, multiple kettles ranging from 20 to 60 gallons, stainless steel fixtures, pH meters, soon-to-come filling equipment, and pressure cookers capable of processing hundreds of quarts at a time.

The Prince Edward Commercial Cannery and Kitchen started 2013 by contracting with Virginia Food Works to provide management of the commercial aspects of the cannery and commercial kitchen. In January, Ward’s Citrus Kicker passed inspection on a batch of More Heat sauce and he processed up to 20 gallons of sauce in one visit. He plans to expand to 30-gallon batches in the near future. Following inspection and authorization to sell and market his sauces, an eye-catching label was needed.

Daves-Johnson offered one more piece of advice. She encouraged Eddie to contact Wade Lough, the spring faculty advisor for Longwood University Design Lab to create a new look for Eddie’s Citrus Kicker. The Design Lab had previously created an identity for the cannery. Professor Lough assigned the project to the student creative director of the Design Lab, Kathryn Grayson.

Kathryn, then a senior at Longwood, met with Eddie and began developing an identity for Eddie’s Citrus Kicker. Her design built in a heat scale using colors on the labels ranging from green for LIME to fire red for the hottest flavor, SASSY. This combination of type, color, and composition is a visual system that attracts the eye to the product line.

“After countless hours spent at my computer and much frustration trying to create my own labels, I was extremely pleased with the first proof shown to me by Kathryn and delighted to have the care of the layout, printing, and proofing process in the hands of highly capable individuals,” Ward stated.

The service for creating the labels was provided at no charge which enabled Ward to have a professional label on his products at an early stage in his business. The resulting label from the Design Lab is on display at Wise Ridge Country Store, Miller’s Country Store, Marion’s Bi-Rite, Mitchell’s Market, Ayers Building Supply, Cumberland Farm Equipment, Cash-n-Carry, and Granny B’s Market.

Ward plans to spend much more time in the cannery as demand increases for his sauces. Virginia Food Works facilitates his use of the cannery and equipment, as well as, offers assistance with marketing and distribution.

“I am extremely pleased by how warmly I was received by agencies and the public as I went through this process,” Ward concluded. While this is just the beginning of the story, it has been a journey already. My ethics are much like the Jason Aldean song “The Only Way I Know,” mixed with trusting God for everything that I don’t know or can’t do (which were all aspects when I started this). I am still trusting Him and doing what he told me to do.”

The Prince Edward Cannery and Commercial Kitchen invites food entrepreneurs interested in processing acidified or high-acid value-added food products to contact the facility or visit the web-page for more information: