Caldo Churns Out Hot Sauce for a Cause

The Ferretti family’s company uses local peppers to make dynamite hot sauces, with a portion of proceeds supporting charities such as Elijah's Promise and World Vision.

Four-pack of mixed Caldo hot sauces. Photo by Rachel Anderson

Good hot sauce should make you sweat. It might even make you cry. In theory, wild little endorphins show up, too. Caldo Sauce Company’s is a good hot sauce. Yes, it makes you sweat (spike your eggs with Ghost Dragon Elixir, you’ll see). More importantly—where co-founder Bob Ferretti is concerned—Caldo is good at doing good: the Hillsborough-based hot sauce company exists to raise money for charity.

Caldo—formerly known as “Hot Sauce 4 Good”—started in May 2013, according to Ferretti, who began making the sauce with wife Laurie after a bumper crop of cayenne. Until then, nobody in the Ferretti family had a burning passion for selling hot sauce. “But people liked it. People wanted to buy it! We thought long and hard about it. We thought, ‘If we’re going to sell it, let’s do it for charity.’”

Neither Bob or Laurie come from non-profit sectors: she works in speech pathology while Bob was formerly in the for-profit sector: “I worked in marketing for Merrill Lynch and Bank of America, and a [now defunct] marketing company called High Net Worth,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with it, necessarily. But going into work every day, helping rich people get richer—it’s not exactly what I was called to do,” he says. “The pay scale is a lot different now, but the fulfillment level is a lot better.”

That fulfillment comes from Caldo’s partnerships with two charities: Elijah’s Promise and World Vision, which the hot sauce company first partnered with. World Vision is known for sponsoring children, but Caldo works with the arm of the charity that awards micro-loans to small businesses in under-developed communities. “It was a great fit, supporting other small businesses, helping communities grow,” says Ferretti, who has traveled to Ethiopia with World Vision. “We met four families who directly benefited from the work we’re doing. It was amazing,” he says. “They not only paid [their micro-loans] back, they became community leaders. They were directing the dairy cooperative in one of the towns” outside of Addis Ababa.

Elijah’s Promise in New Brunswick was a natural second charity to partner with closer to home. “We’re doing global charity, but there’s a lot of stuff going on in our own backyard,” says Ferretti. “They’re a soup kitchen, but they have a culinary institute as well. You can learn how to cook, how to work in the restaurant business.”

Bob Ferretti and Keira McDevitt at the Old York Cellars Wine Festival. Photo by Keira McDevitt

Caldo isn’t a nonprofit. In fact, their charity depends on them turning a profit on 10,000 bottles of hot sauce per year. But of that, roughly 25 cents retail and $1 per farmstand bottle go to charity—about 40 percent of the proceeds. “On a scale of small business to large business, we’re on the micro side,” says Ferretti. “It’s a conscious decision not to try to expand too much.” Bob and Laurie run the business with their son Luke, but also hold down separate jobs. Fortunately their overheads are low: they can use the inspected kitchen of their Catholic church to make sauce, and they source almost all of their chiles locally. (Hatch chiles are exclusively from New Mexico.)

“I can practically walk to them,” Ferretti says of the three farms that are actually in his hometown (Hillsborough Farm, Norz Hill Farm, Dogwood Farms). The fourth, Snyder’s in Somerset, is less than 10 miles away, and the fifth is the Student Farm at Rutgers University, which the Ferretti’s connected with after approaching the Rutgers Food Innovation Center. “They made sure we dotted our I’s and crossed our T’s with the FDA,” says Ferretti. “We met Dr. Albert Ayeni, who runs the farm with the students. They helped us refine our recipe into a formula we could use.”

The formula works (two of their sauces, Molten Melon and Sublime Cilantro, won the 2017 “Screaming Mimi” Award at the NYC Hot Sauce Expo), and part of that is consistency. “We weigh it to the gram,” says Ferretti of their 15-gallon sauce recipes. Flavors vary. “Over six years we’ve probably had about 30 different hot sauces,” says Ferretti, with certain fixed standards like the original Hot Garlic and unexpected bottles such as the Ghost Dragon Elixir, made with three of the world’s hottest peppers (the Trinidadian Scorpion, the Carolina Reaper, and the Ghost Pepper). “The first question I always get is ‘What’s your hottest sauce?’” says Ferretti, who notes they “double up on gloves,” and use goggles and gas masks when cooking down the chiles for these sauces. “We have a very good ventilation system.”

Expansion isn’t in the cards for Caldo. “We like the area we’re in, the amount of work we have to put in to be profitable to donate to charity,” says Ferretti.  But sauce innovation continues. “We want to do one with apricots. That’s one we’ve been playing with for a little while,” says Ferretti.

Caldo hot sauces are available for sale online; they currently ship to the 48 contiguous United States. Ferretti says their hot sauce has a shelf life of two years, once opened. Proceed, of course, with caution.

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  1. Bryan De Lisi

    What a great story! People making a difference one bottle at a time.

  2. James Wright

    Great sauce, great people, great story. Thanks for sharing!