• 36°

Rupen elevates sauces to a new level

After looking at how Virginia Food Works operates last month, I’d like to highlight one of our wonderful clients, Rupen’s.

Rupen Rao immigrated to the U.S. more than 20 years ago from India and in 2018 took the leap to pursue his dream of making high-quality, delicious Indian sauces for sale in stores. He was teaching cooking classes at the time and contacted Virginia Food Works to make 230 curry sauces in October 2018. Rupen has come a long way with his business since then, now offering 16 different products and making more than 9,000 curries, marinades, teas and chutneys at Prince Edward County Cannery in 2020 alone.

Rupen’s dream for his business took root when he realized the lacking quality of Indian sauce options at grocery stores upon his arrival in the U.S. and the cuisine’s lack of progress since then. As Rupen describes it, “Indian cooking was stuck at the flip phone level of cuisine. I want to elevate the game of Indian cooking wherever I see it’s poor.”

Rupen’s sauces raise the bar from a flip-phone level of quality to that of the iPhone 12.

Rupen tested his sauces at the Prince Edward County Cannery with the help of our organization. We act as his contract-packer, “co-packer,” which means that we provide a food-safe and inspected facility, food product insurance and labor to make his sauces according to recipes approved by food scientists. Rupen’s products are shelf-stable, so they can be sold on store shelves with an 18-month expiration date. Shelf stable products have an advantage in the marketplace because they don’t require refrigeration during transportation to and storage in retail stores. Rupen currently sells his sauces in Washington, D.C. at two Whole Foods stores, four locations of Shop Made in D.C., through Zingerman’s online shop for food lovers, Amazon, and his own website, Rupens.com.

We’ve loved watching Rupen’s growth and success and appreciate that our staff at the Cannery are “the hands (Rupen) could trust to make his vision come true.” He frequently tells us that the best Indian sauces in America are being made right here in Farmville- who would have thought?

His products are delicious and a true treat in my busy life, when all I need to do is saute some chicken and vegetables and add one of his sauces to the pan for 10 minutes. Served over rice, it’s the tastiest, simple meal I can make quickly at home. And I don’t have to keep the very many spices required for the recipe stocked in my pantry.

Rupen sold his first small batch of curries in 2018 for $3,800. In 2019, that sales figures increased to $14,800. In 2020, he sold $54,000 of products – an incredible accomplishment. We are so proud to work with Rupen and his delicious foods, and we wish for the same success for each and every one of our clients.

KATHARINE WILSON is the director Virginia Food Works. She can be reached at info@virginiafoodworks.org.