More than 30 years ago, Suzie and Jan Barhyte created European-style mustards to serve with sandwiches at their Oregon deli. These tasty condiments launched a business that today offers more than 65 products including mustards, marinades, salad dressings and wing sauces. Combining home-style charm with strategic branding, careful product development and a commitment to social media, this specialty food business is ready for the future.

Newest Product Additions

  • Saucy Mama Sweet
    Heat Marinade
  • Saucy Mama Pacific
    Rim Ginger Dressing
  • Saucy Mama Tarragon
    Lemon Mustard
  • Saucy Mama Apricot
    Ginger Mustard
  • Saucy Mama Dijon
    “We now do a fabulous Dijon."

The French use a process with all brown seeds. You have to get rid of almost all the husk from the mustard. It’s a difficult process and they don’t make that equipment in the U.S. so my son, Mike, got some French equipment so I could get the Dijon that I wanted.”—Suzie Barhyte

Best Sellers

  • Saucy Mama Cracked
    Pepper Marinade
  • Saucy Mama Hot Wing Sauce
  • Saucy Mama Raspberry
    Vinaigrette Dressing
  • Saucy Mama Spicy
    Garlic Wing Sauce
  • Willamette Valley Aioli
    Garlic Mustard

by Deborah Moss

Photos courtesy of Barhyte Specialty Foods

When Suzie “Saucy Mama” Barhyte opened Swift & Martin Station Deli with her husband Jan in Pendleton, Ore., in the late 1970s, she couldn’t have imagined how things would develop in the subsequent four decades. “We were bringing in good meats and cheeses for our new deli but we couldn’t find a
good mustard,” she explains. “American hot-dog mustard is fabulous, but you need a subtler mustard for different meats and cheeses.”

Mustard making was a family tradition with both the Barhytes so Suzie started experimenting with family recipes and offered three results at the deli: Jalapeno, Sweet Hot Stone Ground and Sweet ’N Sour mustards. The response was so overwhelming that in 1982 the Barhytes gave up their deli to devote themselves to the mustard business full-time, naming their new venture Old Fashioned Foods.

Thirty years later, Barhyte Specialty Foods has changed names and grown from two to 50 employees, including two of the Barhytes’ three sons. Though the company now offers more than 65 products manufactured in a 50,000-square-foot facility in Pendleton, one thing hasn’t changed: It still relies on Suzie’s inventiveness to create all the company’s offerings, including products for the award-winning Saucy Mama line of gourmet condiments and sauces as well as the Barhyte brand and private label.

Building the Company

Saucy Mama ProductsIn 1977 when Suzie and Jan started producing mustard for their deli they were responsible for the entire process. “We made it in the restaurant kitchen that went with the deli and we did everything. We created it. We bottled it. We delivered it. Everything,” Suzie recalls.

While many customers were familiar with American hot-dog mustard, the European-style mustards that the Barhytes were
selling at the deli was something special for them. Suzie and Jan knew they were on to something when people started asking
for mustard to take home in to-go cups.

After selling the deli, they worked from a home kitchen producing Jalapeno, Sweet Hot Stone Ground and Sweet ’N Sour mustards under the Old Fashioned Foods label. In the beginning, their mustard customers were mainly small regional grocers and specialty food stores on the West Coast. In 1984 the Barhytes opened a factory in Lincoln City, on the coast of Oregon, because it was closer to their customers. For a decade the pair sold to local shops and at food festivals from the back of their black-and-gold GMC Gentleman Jim pick-up truck.

It was all mustard, all the time. “We had three small boys then and by the time they were teens they said they never wanted to see a mustard jar again,” Suzie says.

By 1986, the Barhytes took advantage of some rising food trends. The popularity of imported products led them to change the company name to Haus Barhyte (they changed it to Barhyte Specialty Foods in 2005) and they added the Willamette Valley mustard line as Oregon wines from this region became better known. It was around this time that the business also began selling the mustard in local wineries.

As business continued to grow, the Barhytes needed more space. In 1994 they moved back to Pendleton to open a 10,000-square-foot factory. The ’90s saw enormous growth for the company. Along with private labeling, the Barhytes expanded their business by licensing logos from 75 PAC Ten, Big Ten and SEC Conference schools for their Collegiate Tailgate Mustards® and Wing Sauces. Suzie began experimenting with marinades and salad dressings during this time because, she says, “we had a lot of those ingredients on hand anyway.” In 1995 they made their first official hire: Chris Barhyte, their eldest son, came onboard to oversee sales. Then, in 1999, the Barhytes had a major turning point when a large grocery chain asked them to do its private labeling—a single order that tripled their volume. That same year the Barhytes opened a 50,000-square-foot factory and hired their son Mike to run the plant.

A Surprising Brand Transformation

Brand Timeline

1977: Swift & Martin Station Deli opens in Pendleton, Ore.

1982: Mustard business begins, then called Old Fashioned Foods, with Jalapeno, Sweet Hot Stone Ground and Sweet ‘N Sour mustards.

1986: Company name changes to Haus Barhyte, based on the recommendation of a marketing company (because imported foods were becoming popular in the U.S.).

1994: Business expands through licensing logos from 75 PAC Ten, Big Ten and SEC Conference schools for Collegiate Tailgate Mustards and Wing Sauces lines.

1999: Large grocery chain hires Barhyte for private labeling.

2005: Company name changes to Barhyte Specialty Foods because “people didn’t understand what we did” based on Haus Barhyte name, says Suzie Barhyte.

2007: Advertising agency hired to fine-tune the concept
of new Saucy Mama line and help define
key messaging points for the brand.
saucymamacafe.com launches.

2009: Saucy Mama product line debuts.
Suzie authors a cookbook (Beyond The Bull, published to honor the Pendleton Round-Up’s
100th Anniversary).

2010: Full-time social media supervisor, Colette Becker, comes onboard.

By 2000, Suzie was working with her husband and sons Chris (CEO) and Mike (president of plant operations). “I love it,” she says. “There are typical family dynamics—we do fight—but I love it! I love their creativity, their excitement. They have fresh ideas and they push me. That’s a good thing.”

One such fresh idea came from Chris and completely changed the Barhyte brand. In 2006, Chris was giving a speech after Barhyte won the award for Kroger’s Grocery Private Vendor Label of the Year at an event in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“I was standing at a podium and I started talking about my mom. The whole room lit up. The audience was excited and smiling,” he recalls. “At that point it hit me that we needed to totally change the focus and put her in the spotlight, to make her the face of the brand.”

By 2007 they had come up with the name “The Saucy Mama” and Chris spearheaded the rebranding of the company. “We were known as Barhyte Specialty Foods but we got rid of all collateral marketing material and our old website. We focused everything on Saucy Mama,” Chris says.

During the first part of the rebranding process, the Barhytes built a new website and made Saucy Mama the focus of all marketing materials, although they did keep some products with the Barhyte brand. They also redid the test kitchen at the Pendleton plant to project a homey vibe. (Originally, it had been a laboratory-like, large sterile kitchen with a lot of white and stainless steel.)

“When I’m working with my product I have all the scientific stuff I need but I can pull in employees and have them sit at the counter and taste. I can cook with the products as we are developing them. I can use them as they would be used at home,” Suzie explains. “I’m always watching for their reactions … watching for their eyes to light up. That’s when I know I’m on to something.”

The kitchen remains the heart of the company. Suzie cooks employees lunch on Fridays where she’ll usually have 12 to 24 people participating (including a few locals who may wander in to join). Chris and Suzie agree that they get more honest opinions from these informal lunches than they do from the official product testing they conduct at a nearby university.

“For years we tried to conceal the fact that we were a small company. We were trying to be larger than we were,” says Chris, who used to call his mother by her name in business environments to make the company seem more formal. “It turns out that people responded well to small. Now if people ask something about the Saucy Mama line, I say, ‘Oh yeah, you need to talk to my mom.’”

Social Media Specialists

After hiring an advertising agency and public-relations firm, by March 2009 the Saucy Mama brand had launched and was a huge hit. Kelly Mooney, Barhyte’s public relations rep and president of This Just In PR & Marketing, says the top tools for brand-building have been attendance at trade shows, advertising in trade magazines, display racks and demos in grocery stores and social media.

“We realized the influence food bloggers have,” Mooney says. “So in 2010 we brought on Colette Becker full-time to handle social media. She does daily posts on the company’s blog as well as running online contests. Now we are very active and intimate with the food-blogging community.”

Barhyte’s social media outreach extends beyond the basic Facebook and Twitter activity. For example, in the fall of 2010 the company invited Oregon State University football tailgaters to submit videos of their tailgating recipes that use Saucy Mama products. After receiving an astonishing 700 entries, the winner received four Club Level tickets to the big in-state rivalry game, a grill, a $500 grocery gift certificate and a gift pack of Saucy Mama products for tailgating. In March 2011, the company shipped product to the first 50 home bloggers who entered a contest to create the “most inventive five-ingredient dish you could imagine” using one of the latest Saucy Mama products. The winner received $1,000 cash and a bounty of Saucy Mama products, and the winning recipe was featured on Saucy Mama marketing materials as well as receiving mention on the Saucy Mama Café blog (at saucymamacafe.com). “We did realize that if you’re going to do it, you’ve got to do it,” says Chris of the decision to hire a full-time person to handle social media. “You have to have active content.”

“We’ve tried to be more community oriented online,” he continues. “For example, on Facebook we try to do things that aren’t calls to action for purchasing. Instead we’ll mention a cool cooking video. We aren’t always saying ‘buy, buy, buy.’

“For the Fancy Food Show, Collette will report on the food show—not just the Barhyte brand. She’ll talk about trends and interesting products she sees.”

The Future

Today the company offers 65 products in total: 29 mustards, 10 marinades, 14 salad dressings, six wing sauces and six other condiment items. Retail sales to specialty food stores comprise the bulk of Barhyte’s business, with about 5 percent of sales coming from foodservice. About 60 percent of retail sales are private label and the other 40 percent includes brands Saucy Mama, Willamette Valley and Collegiate Tailgate Mustards and Wing Sauces.

Though many companies struggled with sales during the past few years, Barhyte has seen growth. “As people have started cooking at home again, we benefited,” explains Chris. “We’ve seen equal growth on Saucy Mama and private label.”

The family plans to continue to grow, by making new products that are an organic continuation of their brand. “A few years back we co-branded with a liquor company on a mustard,” Chris shares. “We overestimated the power of someone else’s brand. It wasn’t a natural fit with our product line,” he admits, noting it was a mistake the company won’t try again.

Future Saucy Mama products developed by Suzie will likely be inspired by something she has tasted and loved. Suzie, who is reluctant to name her favorite product but admits she’s wild about the Cracked Pepper marinade she uses for grilled meats and veggies, says she recently had a wonderful miso dressing in a restaurant and she’s hoping to create something similar. The company also plans to work on products for people with food sensitivities (such as gluten- or soy-free foods). And the Barhytes plan to continue activity in their eastern Oregon town. Pendleton annually hosts a rodeo for which Suzie authored a cookbook in 2009 (Beyond The Bull, published to honor the event’s 100th anniversary).

Regardless of which sauce comes next for the Saucy Mama, the company’s mission remains the same as it was almost 40 years ago. “We are all about gathering around food, making it flavorful, easy and fun,” says Suzie. “That’s where it all started and that’s our future.” |SFM|

Deborah Moss is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Sports Illustrated and Shape.

Professional assessment: What you can learn from Barhyte Specialty Foods

Food and beverage brand marketing expert Tammy Katz of Katz Marketing Solutions in Columbus, Ohio, examines Barhyte Specialty Food’s approach and discusses ways other specialty food companies can strengthen their own brands.

Listen and out-maneuver larger competitors: Although Barhyte started as a retailer, the owners recognized the unmet consumer need for extraordinary mustard and capitalized on consumers’ strong reaction to the exceptional taste of their products. The Barhytes understood, and jumped on, the opportunity to create a brand and shift their attention from retail to manufacturing and marketing.

What You Should Do: Always monitor your business closely for unexpected pockets of consumer demand or momentum that you can quickly capitalize on. Be faster and more nimble than larger competitors: that is where you can have, and maintain, a competitive advantage.

Drive consumer appeal, not just distribution: The Barhytes have consistently focused their attention on perfecting their products, anticipating consumer needs and doing whatever it took to build consumer awareness and trial of their brand. Their strategy is focused on selling well in each store—via displays, demos and programs—to drive heavy consumption per user (e.g., recipes for tailgating vs. traditionally light condiment usage).

What You Should Do: To maximize your profitability, focus on and build key measures of consumer demand such as sales per store, sales per account and sales per consumer. Don’t just build broad distribution with weak sell-through per store/account.

Create a compelling brand image: The conversion to Saucy Mama made the brand unique and more interesting, and creates a higher-quality perception than the prior family name as the brand. The brand jumps to life through the company’s brilliant development of Suzie as the “Saucy Mama” specialty food star and spokesperson.

What You Should Do: Build a true brand. Ensure it is different, superior and has a compelling promise—and promote that promise. Otherwise, it’s simply words on a package.

Use social media to create relationships, not noise: Barhyte Specialty Foods is in the minority of food companies (huge and small) that use social media effectively—to build brand awareness, loyalty and usage per consumer. The company has marketed effectively to food bloggers by creating content and promotions that are relevant and compelling to bloggers’ audience. In addition, its Facebook and YouTube promotions drive usage, brand involvement and referrals among the most loyal, heavy users.

What You Should Do: Before you spend an hour or dollar on social media, determine what you want to accomplish, who you want to target and how to be relevant to their conversations, rather than simply “broadcast.” Then select the most appropriate social medium(s) and message to accomplish the objectives you set.

Food and beverage brand marketing expert Tammy Katz is CEO of Katz Marketing Solutions. She has led numerous Fortune 500 and specialty food brands and launched more than 100 new products with cumulative sales of $2 billion. Katz serves on the board of directors of several food companies and is adjunct instructor of brand management at the Fisher College of Business MBA Program at Ohio State University.


This article was featured in the July 2011 issue of Specialty Food Magazine. See other articles in this issue at: July 2011 Specialty Food Magazine.