Black Garlic UK focused on growing Belsajo brand

Black Garlic UK focused on growing Belsajo brand

Black Garlic UK founder and managing director Katy Heath is passionate about the possibilities for her Balsajo brand and sees space for growth in a number of channels, product formats and countries. For Heath, the real difficulty is narrowing down what avenue of growth to explore first and balancing the limited resources of an SME. The company recently secured a finance package with Secure Trust Bank that will enable it to ramp up production and purchase new equipment. With new processing capacity coming online, Heath spoke to just-food about her plans for this unique product.

Bitesize Statistics
Name Black Garlic UK
Founded 2008
Brands Balsajo
Turnover (2015E.) GBP 300,000
Key Markets UK

just-food: A lot of people might not be familiar with black garlic, can you tell us a bit about the product?

Katy Heath: Balsajo black Garlic is naturally aged white garlic, a bit like a sundried tomato. The ageing process turns the regular white garlic black in colour with a soft jelly or semi dried fruit texture and an amazing flavour so it is reminiscent of raisin, balsamic, tamarind with a roasted garlic undertone. It is a layered flavour which interestingly has no after smell as the compound that makes garlic stay with you all day turns into a slightly different compound so it is very different from white garlic. It offers a completely different type of flavour and use and should in no way be seen as a replacement for white garlic.

j-f: What prompted you to bring it to the UK?

Heath: When I heard about it, it was a time when [a lot of] "superfoods" were being launched here. It has amazing health properties, all the properties of regular garlic and then some – with increased anti oxidant count etcetera - and none of the smell. Immediately I saw interest in the health and food ingredient market as it was a time when people were cooking from home again and if they weren’t then the "ready meal" was being transformed into something more fresh and healthy with less preservatives and more of a focus on goodness. Black garlic carries other flavours so is definitely preferable to sugar salt and fat to many people. I saw it in capsules, ready meals, as a snack food, on deli boards. Basically everywhere I looked in the food and health industry I saw an opportunity for black garlic and a need for it in peoples lives.

j-f: Have you seen strong demand since its introduction? What has the trade response been like? What listings have you secured and do you hope to keep expanding by entering more of the multiples?

Heath: There has been very strong interest, which we have not been big enough to capitalise on - or we weren’t at the start. Press adore it, individuals at shows cannot believe it is just garlic and when they try it the look on their faces is priceless. The flavours are amazing and it is very more-ish. Yes, [we do see ourselves entering] major multiples [at some stage]. But I am trying to grow via authentic channels first and build interest in the product from real foodies. When I first launched, I chucked it in a major multiple that was not suited and this did the product and its then brand no favours.

j-f: Do you see space to grow in UK foodservice?

Heath: Mountains. I see this product everywhere I look and I am trying to look at one area at a time. But interest in it in the food manufacturing industry is massive. Also in restaurant business, it adds real value. It is very rare to find a completely new food that is actually the oldest food in the world! It adds such depth to meals and meats like Bolognese or a chilli. It gives [meals] that next day richness or unctuousness if you will. It is an umami giving food, which is all the rage now don’t you know.

j-f: You recently rebranded from Black Garlic to Balsajo. Why?

Heath: I launched the product as "black garlic" but had issues with trademarking that name. I have a problem in that people can make a product that is both black and garlic and sell it as such. We need to protect the flavour of our product and strict ageing process. Our ageing process is very delicate so one hour at the wrong temperature, in a four-week continuous process, can wreck the taste and flavour profile completely, hence our rebrand. Balsajo is a blend of balsamic and ajo.

j-f: Internationally, what markets are you currently selling into? What markets do you see greatest potential to grow in?

Heath: I have rights worldwide. I originally launched with an American partner but we are no more. International sales are very good, lots of interest in Netherlands, Germany and we just launched in a Swedish supermarket.

j-f: What is your current sales trajectory and how long to you expect to maintain this growth rate?

Heath: We expect rapid growth over the next two to three years as we are still marketing a completely new and unknown product. The market is perfect for it with a massive interest in mildly processed - smoked, fermented or aged products - that provide umami and carry flavour in place of fat sugar and salt. Also for healthy snack foods... My four year old has been known to eat a 50g pot of peeled cloves in one go – that has got to be the healthiest sweet in the world!

j-f: Do you plan to sell the business when it reaches a certain size? Why?

Heath: Yes. I have other interests and a son/dogs/chickens to care for! I will sell or bring in a major partner who is in food industry in a couple of years.