One Bottle at a Time: A Truer Meaning of Small Batch

By Olivia St. Denis

Originally Published 03/18/2018 on

For the skeptics and contrarians working at Karma Sauce Co. (okay me), phrases like “all natural” and “hand-crafted” are merely marketing ploys -- euphemisms! -- until proven otherwise.

Even a stronger descriptor like “small batch” can take on tenuous meaning. Fun wiki-fact! Did you know that the U.S. has not yet determined federal regulations that define the use of “small batch” on product labels? Across varying industries, even across different brands in the same industry, the quantity of products manufactured in “small batches” varies. The only real way to know what “small batch” means for a product is if the brand tells you outright on the label or elsewhere in its marketing.

Which means we at Karma Sauce Co. have some explaining to do. Take a look at our labels. Phrases like “Hand-crafted in small batches,” “Artisan” and “All Natural” are plastered all over them.   

But here’s what I know from working here: we back the hell out of our label claims. There are no euphemisms here. Want to know what “hand-crafted” means? It’s peeling and splitting pounds of onions before obliterating them and our sinuses in the food processor. It’s picking and de-stemming literal tons of unholy super hot peppers for hours in 145 percent New York state humidity. Only then to hold a 20 pound wand with a rotating blade (pros call it an “immersion blender”) for more hours grinding the peppers into an unholier mash.

I’d damn it all if it wasn’t the most metal thing ever. Corny but true: the work it takes to go from farm to bottle is a labor of love. I love #farmlife, even though every task is exhausting and my tolerance for hot weather is not a thing. But I relish in all the instant gratification that planting, picking, and producing something 800 times a day can afford me. I mash, therefore I am.

So, let’s satisfy everyone’s inner skeptic and define what Karma Sauce® really is.

All Natural: (In real life, this phrase really irks me because c’mon, does it even mean anything? Welp, here goes:) The ingredients in all of our products -- the sauces, salsas, mustards, kats’ups, and spice rubs -- never contain ingredients, preservatives, or chemicals developed in an R&D lab. Everything’s all whole fruits and vegetables, spices, and local honey. Naturally!

Artisan: A fancier way of saying “hand-crafted” that describes the quality of the food product. Artisan foods are made by people (!) in traditional, non-mechanized ways using high-quality or specialty ingredients. Check and check.

Craft: There is ongoing discussion in foodie circles about what “craft” is and if it can or should be defined, so let’s take a cue from a dude who makes small batch spirits: “Craft is about the action, not the words.” Words to live by from Scott Blackwell at High Wire Distilling. The next time someone tells you that they make a small batch craft product, ask them for pictures. Check their social media. If they are the real deal they’ll be proudly displaying their work and won’t shy away from explaining how it’s made (short of giving up proprietary secrets).

Farm to Bottle: A.k.a, the path of least resistance. We grow the essential ingredients in our products, like chile peppers, tomatoes, and tomatillos in Bristol, NY and process them (de-stem, rinse, chop, and cook) at the Karma kitchen 18 miles away.

Hand-crafted: Every stage of our production process - picking, processing, cooking, filling, finishing - is completed by hand or by using small, hand-operated machinery. Vegetables are rinsed, peeled, and halved by hand. Bottles and jars are filled by hand. The filler and capper are operated by hand. The label on each bottle is rolled on by hand. Know what I’m sayin’?!

Locavore: Ingredients that we don’t grow we source as locally and as often as possible from other farms within 50 miles of Rochester, NY. Our glass and caps are from Waterford, NY. Even our labels are made in Rochester. Inside and out, Karma Sauce® is a product of Rochester, the Finger Lakes region, and New York state.

Small batch: This one has levels. It incorporates batch production, the method of manufacturing where the product is created in stages over a series of workstations and where different batches of products are made. All true for us! This method generally takes longer than mass or continuous production, but there’s no flavor lost for the sake of maximum output. As mentioned earlier, the “small” in small batch can mean just about anything. So let’s break it down: At maximum capacity, the single (yep, just one!) Karma kettle can hold up to 40 gallons of product, or about 900 bottles of sauciness.

Alright, so what? I want people to know that what they see on our kitschy little labels really is what they get. Karma Sauce Co. doesn’t outsource generic pepper sauce formulas to an out-of-state manufacturer, have a co-packer slap a label on it, and call the product “local” because it sounds good and could technically be true. Karma Sauce® is grown in the Finger Lakes and it’s made in Rochester (okay, Pittsford), one bottle at a time.


Rock on and recycle.