Brooklyn, N.Y.-based City Saucery announces proudly on its website that its tomato sauces stem from “ugly tomatoes.” This isn’t a nasty Yelp review, but the company’s showcasing that its homemade sauces are derived from “local upcycled tomatoes that would ordinarily go to waste.”
It describes itself as a “mission-based food manufacturing company,” which is dedicated to using “overripe tomatoes and oddly shaped carrots that should get cooked not tossed.”
It launched in 2012. Its sauces are now manufactured at its own facility in Sunset Park at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, where founders Michael Marino and Jorge Moret, have complete control over production. His mother Lina Morino also contributed many of the original recipes.
City Saucery produces an array of products including sauces, canned tomatoes, sauce kits, juices, spaghetti donuts and condiments.
A Brooklyn-based sauce and Italian products company is proving that an unexpected brand name and a devotion to eliminating food waste can pay off in sales.
Marino was an architect and Moret a graphic designer yet both made the transition into owning an Italian sauces company. Marino says that “we enjoy making things and creating things but now we’re doing it with food.”
They self-financed the business at the outset, and prepared their sauces originally at a Long Island City shared kitchen before they developed their own 2,200 square foot production space.
It taps multiple revenue streams and breaks down its revenue as 60% from direct to consumer, covering ecommerce and greenmarket sales at Union Square and the 79th Street farmer’s market and 40% from wholesale including selling to independent supermarkets like Murray’s Cheese in Greenwich Village, Pip & Anchor in Massachusetts, and in grocery stores in other Northeast states including Vermont, New Jersey and Rhode Island, as well as restaurants, cafes and wine bars.
One of its product lines is actually called “Ugly Sauces” and it also offers sauces such as Vegan Vodka, Rustic Marinara and Sweet Veggies. Indeed, its top three selling products are: ugly sauce, vegan tomato ‘nduja and vegan vodka.
Marino says they refer to them as “ugly tomatoes” because “they’re either overripe or bruised. Supermarkets don’t want them for cosmetic reasons; hence the name.” City Saucery turns them into “handcrafted quality sauces and condiments” while preventing food waste, he suggested.
He explained that these overripe tomatoes “are ideal for cooking sauces as well as for canning. They taste sweeter, which is what you want in a tomato sauce. We don’t use sugars, because the overripe tomatoes produce enough natural sugars on their own.”
At the farmer’s markets, many customers laugh at the name, ugly tomatoes. “Why not inject some humor into shopping?” Marino asks.
Marino acknowledges that some “purists” get insulted about calling tomatoes ugly, but once he explains it’s about reducing food waste and curtailing greenhouse gases, they understand.
Marino says that these “upcycled” tomatoes would end up as food waste or tossed into the field, incinerators or landfills. Research says that 8% of humans cause greenhouse gas emissions from food waste. Reducing it is one way to lessen the effect of climate change according to non-profit Project Drawdown, which is devoted to reducing greenhouse gases.
It also inaugurated a return/reuse program where customers can return the jar to the farmer’s market and get $1 off on their next sauce or other purchase.
It relies on a small supply chain of about 32 farms developed over the past 10 years, mostly between Pennsylvania and Vermont. “We do not use imported tomatoes or pastes like 95% of our competitors,” he said.
It raised $25,000 on Kiza Solutions, a funding platform, in 2015 and once again in 2016, which they used to source more tomatoes and move into its factory in 2017. But Marino emphasized that “We are not venture-backed and self-fund 100% of our business model, currently.”
Marino intends to raise more capital through angel investors to move to the next step, opening up retail stores in New York City, and then Los Angeles and elsewhere. He’s begun looking in the West Village, where many of his customers reside.
So one day if you see an “Ugly Tomato” sign somewhere near Bleecker Street, you’ll know it’s about tasty products and reducing waste, not any slurs on misshapen tomatoes.