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If You Could Bottle It

Got a great recipe? Area businesses can help you go from idea to a jar — with a logo on its label

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Sauce fromCanale’s Restaurant and Pastabilities can be found online and at several stores in Central New York. “We had so many requests to ship it. Putting it in a shelf-stable container had great advantages,” says Karyn Korteling, Pastabilities’ owner.

Perhaps you operate a restaurant and want to offer your famous tomato sauce as a jarred product customers could take home. 

Or maybe your berry farm experiences seasonal surpluses of berries you don’t want to waste, but turn into a value-added revenue stream. 

Or it could be that you want to make a food item using a family recipe. 

A few area businesses can help you go from idea to a jar with a logo on its label.

Pastabilities restaurant in Syracuse makes Hot Tom, a “put-on-anything” sauce. Inspired by sauces restaurant owner Karyn Korteling ate in Italy, Hot Tom did not get in a bottle readily. Though Pastabilities brought Hot Tom to the menu in 1989, it was not available as a jarred product until 2012. Initially, Pastabilities sold Hot Tom in takeaway containers and customers had to immediately place it in the refrigerator.

“We had so many requests to ship it,” Korteling said. “Putting it in a shelf-stable container had great advantages.”

Pastabilities began looking at ways to package its sauce in jars, which required scaling up the recipe to larger batches. That made it challenging to maintain the right thickness. They also had to develop a schedule process, a formal recipe based on precise measurements and temperatures to ensure a consistent and safe product with the correct pH.

The restaurant tried a couple of food manufacturers before finding BC Gourmet in Massachusetts, which would meet their needs, instead of a local manufacturer that could not.

“They had a good portfolio of sauces on their own as they bottled gourmet pasta sauces,” Korteling said of BC Gourmet. “You have to find a manufacturer that is going to really follow your recipe and that means not making shortcuts, substitutions for ingredients that you really want to have in your product. 

“When you scale up and go to a larger manufacturer, they have their own formulas and sometimes their own pantry of ingredients they want you to work with. Some are more convenient and less costly if you use their bulk ingredients. The challenging is sticking to your vision and desire for what it is you absolutely want at the end of the day and if a company is willing to take that on.”

For Pastabilities, the sauce required a certain type of garlic, olive oil, chili pepper combined together, along with the look and the flavor accurately represented in each container.

Hot Tom is available at area Wegmans, Tops and numerous independent stores and bakery shops. The restaurant also fills online orders through a local warehouse.

Mustard and other products bottled at Nelson Farms in Cazenovia. The location serves as SUNY Morrisville’s food processing incubator.

“I think we didn’t rush this project,” Korteling said. “It evolved over time and I think that was in our favor. It followed that we started small, doing it ourselves and seeing what the public wanted. We saw the demand. I don’t feel like we had any missteps, just trial and error. We had a lot of false starts with manufacturers small and large.”

She advises anyone interested in bottling a food product to stick to their ideals and vision. For Pastabilities, there was no other option since dedicated customers could taste the difference between the real thing and a sauce that was only close.

Restaurant clients are pretty commonplace at Nelson Farms. An FDA-inspected food processing center in Cazenovia, Nelson Farm serves as SUNY Morrisville’s food processing incubator.

Margie Wilcox, food production supervisor at Nelson Farms, said that bottling a sauce, jelly or other product offers businesses another revenue stream.

“It helps them grow bigger,” she said.

Nelson can test product pH and requires clients to submit a sample of their product to send to Cornell’s lab to determine its required temperature and pH.

With Cornell’s approval, clients typically seek their 20C license from the Department of Agriculture & Markets to make their product. Nelson Farms and Ag & Markets require clients to complete a food safety course, available online. The course covers food safety, allergens and other aspects of food safety.

At this point, Nelson Farms approves clients to use the shared use kitchen at Nelson Farms. Wilcox oversees production and operates equipment, but the clients must measure and add ingredients, cap bottles and wash the dishes.

“I suggest they do a small batch their first day because they don’t know the kitchen,” said Amanda J. Taranto, director of retail operations and marketing.

On the first day of production, a representative from Ag & Markets oversees the process and ensures clients are following the rules and that their labels meet FDA requirements.

Nelson Farms differs from co-packers, food processors who receive clients’ scheduled process and complete the entire process. But Nelson Farms does private label processing, which involves using clients’ ingredients with Nelson Farms’ own recipe. Either Nelson Farms or the client will label the goods.

“If someone really wanted to have something as wedding favor, that’s something we’ve done as well,” Wilcox said. “It’s a little unique in that we’re local and can do that for people. We have more shared use clients than private labeling clients.”

Technically, using a commercial kitchen in a fire hall can work in manufacturing a product. However, “our kitchen is supervised; the fire hall kitchen is not,” Wilcox said. “I had one client who didn’t read his recipe and had to have another ingredient.”

The mammoth size of the pots — up to 100 gallons — also matters, as Nelson Farms enables clients to undertake much larger batch sizes. Most people find that making a larger batch is more efficient than numerous small batches.

“Even someone who has been doing this for years, it’s still good to have someone who’s a professional,” Wilcox said. “It gives an added sense of you’re making a product that’s safe for people.”

Nelson Farms charges by the hour. The rate depends on what equipment is used and what the product is, whether canned, frozen, jarred or dry.

“When clients come in, we try to make it happen,” Wilcox said. “If we can’t make it happen, we work with the client to find someone where they can make their goal.”

Founded in 2020, Craft Cannery operates in Bergen, a village in Genesee County. The company can transform a client’s recipe into shelf-stable, salable goods. Craft Cannery typically creates sauces, dressings and marinades.

“I really like helping entrepreneurs get their business off the ground,” said Paul Guglielmo, owner and CEO. “We’re a small co-packer so you can come to us with a dream. People think of this kind of company like we take only large orders.”

The company also offers private labeling services by using their own recipe to create a product with the client’s label on it.

Instead of requiring clients to invest in producing tens to hundreds of thousands of units, Craft Cannery is willing to work with clients who want just a couple thousand units.

The business won a second-place prize of $500,000 in the 2023 Grow-NY contest to aid in its further expansion. Guglielmo hopes to break ground on a second production room in the third quarter of 2023.

Giovanni Foods in Baldwinsville provides the same service but did not want to comment because they felt that their minimum required number of units is so high that they don’t accept people just starting out. 

In addition to creating a quality product, people with food manufacturing aspirations must develop an attractive and accurate label. Steve Chirello, owner of Chirello Advertising in Fulton, is a big believer in developing a quality logo for your label.

“A great brand is to product loyalty, as location is to real estate,” he said. “When you have a great logo, you automatically have the best ‘location’ in your consumer’s mind. He or she gravitates to it.”

He recommends a top-notch logo as it reflects the company values. It could represent ideals like “warmth, strength, dependability, humor, creativity and stability,” he said. “It cuts through the clutter of other messages and engages the consumer. The best part is that it keeps working for you, whether it’s seen as part of an ad or appears on its own in promotions or sponsorship. Logo frequency reinforces your brand.”

On a product, an eye-catching logo helps consumers quickly identify the brand and better understand the products.