“If you go to our Facebook page you will see a bunch of pictures from customers who say that they are at Whole Foods X and the entire section for Hoboken Farms’ marinara is completely empty and they want to know why that is,” said Brad Finkel, who created the sauce and owns Hoboken Farms.
“That to me is a great thing. So, we put it up on social media and say, ‘Sold out in this store, but coming soon,’” he added, explaining this strategy helps the brand build buzz and awareness as shoppers who don’t know about the sauce yet wonder what the fuss is all about and then make a point of buying it next time it is in stock.
The hype around the often sold out sauces also means that when consumers find it in stock, they by three or four jars – even if it isn’t on sale, Finkel said.
“That is why stores put up with us. They will call me to say that our customers are the biggest pains ... because when they are sold out they pester the retailer and say, ‘Where is the Hoboken Farms' sauce, where is the Hoboken Farms' sauce. So, that to me is our advertising – Hoboken Farms, we are always sold out!” Finkel said, adding with a laugh, “We annoy our customers that way.”
That said, Finkel says he is working with a “great logistics company” to scale up in a way that ensures his customers have plenty of sauce going forward.
“We just took on our first broker and I feel very comfortable that this year we can double our volume and we are ready to scale up,” from selling about 10,000 cases of 12 per year to 20,000 next year, he said. He hopes to continue doubling for the next few years as he gains wider distribution.
Already, the sauce is sold in Whole Foods Markets Northeast region, ShopRite, Bed, Bath & Beyond and several other boutique retailers. Plus, the product will continue to be sold in the 30 weekly farmers markets across New Jersey and New York City that Hoboken Farms operates.
So, what is all the fuss about?
The marinara stands out in a category dominated by a few big players in part because it plays up its clean label and simple, fresh ingredients.
The company’s Big Red Marinara includes “nothing but whole fresh tomatoes, fresh garlic, fresh basil, fresh onions and copious amounts of really luxurious olive oil,” salt and spices, Finkel said.
In fact, there is so much olive oil in each jar that Finkel says there is a “black lake” of it on the top of a freshly opened jar that consumers need to stir back into the sauce.
“The olive oil cuts the acid and gives a fabulous mouth feel to the sauce, plus it is good for you,” Finkel said.
The company’s newest SKU – Big Basil marinara – has twice the amount of basil as the original Big Red. The final SKU – Big Boss Vodka – has decadent heavy cream, Parmesan cheese, butter, Romano cheese and a splash of vodka in addition to the tomatoes, garlic and fresh basil.
Each jar claims to be filled with “the most glorious sauce in the ever-lovin’ universe,” a sentiment that was clearly shared by the judges of a blind taste test in The Wall Street Journal who named it the best marinara from a jar in the country. It also took second place in a taste test run by the Star-Ledger in 2014.
Hoboken Farms also goes big with its packaging, which Finkel says recall old fashioned cereal boxes in that the labels are filled with elements that will “delight” consumers.
The main feature is vintage delivery and open-bed trucks in bright red, orange and green – color coded to match the sauces.
The side of the label reads more like an old-fashioned movie billboard with quotes from authors, nutritionists and chefs about how the sauce is “great,” “no holds barred best sauce ever,” and “tastes like home.”
Other claims on the label play up the sauce’s heritage, how it is locally made and produced in “micro batches” – all subtrends that feed into consumers’ desire to know where their food comes from and who made it.
The combination of these trends, the premium packaging and ingredients and the existing passion of the sauce’s existing consumer base hold significant promise for the company’s sauce, whether or not it is available on store shelves.