Market research sparks ideas for growth of hot sauce line

Top Shelf Front St. hot sauce campfire

When Joshua Lines sunk his teeth into a salmon and leek pie a few years ago, the cream sauce in the filling left him wanting.

A little spice and it would have been perfect. Lines’s only option was adding a dash of vinegar-based hot sauce but that would have ruined an otherwise good meal.

All wasn’t lost, though. It did give Lines the idea for a new hot sauce that eschewed vinegar for a roasted red pepper base and emphasized flavour over heat.

Even better, the condiment he now makes and markets with his partner Adina Melanson would be made in Canada, a trait noticeably absent from the options lining supermarket shelves in 2017 when Lines launched their business, Top Shelf Canada, and their Front Street line of premium hot sauces, including Front Street Heat and Front Street Fire.

“The idea was to always be Canada’s hot sauce; to be an alternative to Frank’s,” Lines said.

In the years since, Lines and Melanson have paved the way for their award-winning Front Street sauces to get national distribution and into more than 700 grocery stores nationwide.

“Now we’re in a spot where we’re trying to keep up with it,” Lines said of the sauces’ growth.

To help, he and Melanson turned to Niagara College’s Business and Commercialization Solutions Centre earlier this year for in-depth market research to help get Front Street sauces in front of more people. They also want to ramp up their e-commerce.

It wasn’t the first time Lines and Melanson worked with the College. They were already connected to the Canadian Food and Wine Institute Innovation Centre, having partnered with Faculty Research Lead Amy Proulx and her students on product development and packaging.

Now it was Paula Reile and her research team’s turn to lend their expertise to help Top Shelf Canada get into more heat seekers’ hands.

The research team did competitive analysis, studied trends and where Front Street sauces fit into the hot sauce landscape. After a few months, Lines and Melanson had “lots of viable information” on everything from price points to key markers for success.

“It’s just really handy stuff to have in your back pocket, for sure,” Lines said.

Not only can the information provided by Reile and crew help position Front Street Heat and Fire as premium Canadian hot sauces, it will help with writing business plans to secure funding for further growth of the Sarnia-based enterprise.

“Paula has been amazing,” Lines said. “She wants to see it succeed. It’s not just about doing a project with us. She’s cheering for it, too.”

The connections with Niagara College have been fruitful in other ways. Lines and Melanson recently hired a student to help with social media marketing and develop a presence and strategy for the company on TikTok and Instagram.

With all of their latest information and support in hand from College experts, Lines and Melanson are establishing distribution stateside. The market analysis provided by the Business and Commercialization Solutions team “transfers to a strategy for this as well,” Lines said.

Distribution is already lined up for Michigan, Ohio and Illinois. With plans to attend the New York City Hot Sauce Expo this summer, the couple are also eyeing the Empire State and neighbouring New Jersey as markets.

And if they need help keeping Front Street sauces on the road to success, they wouldn’t hesitate to work with Niagara College again.

“One hundred per cent, for sure we would,” Lines said.
Learn more about Front Street Heat and Front Street Fire.

Learn more about the successes of the Business and Commercialization Solutions team.