The Dr Trouble Chilli sauce story

In search of adventure

When Robert Alexander Fletcher, a Scotsman, arrived in Africa in the late nineteenth century, little did he know that he was to be the start of one of Africa’s finest Chilli sauces. Dr Trouble Chilli sauces, developed from his recipe from Zimbabwe, undoubtedly have this distinction. This is the story behind the sauce.

Fletcher, who was a cartographer, came to the continent in search of adventure.  After being employed by Cecil John Rhodes, the notorious British colonialist, he set off to create maps of the country Rhodes had colonised and named Rhodesia. This involvedDr Trouble Chilli sauce setting off on horseback with his assistant into the African bushveld, carrying only a rifle, salt, and a flint. In this way, he could shoot wild animals, and by cooking their meat on an open fire, provide food for him and his assistant. They would obviously have relied on the numerous streams and rivers for water.

During his travels around the country, Fletcher was given some Chillies by an African Tribal leader. These probably had  found their way into the country by either by Arab or Portuguese traders. These Chillies were probably of the African Birds – eye variety, which had found their way into the region through trade with the local people.

Fletcher,  kept some of these Chillies for use as seed, but it is also easy to imagine him combining them with wild lemons and salt to eat with meat, he grilled on his fire in the wild.

When he returned home, Fletcher grew the seeds he had received and started refining what he had learned in the bushveld. He refined the recipe to include fermenting it in the sun. After developing the sauce to his taste, he made a note on the back of a notebook of a rudimentary recipe to make it.

His great grandson

Rob Fletcher

Roll the clocks forward a hundred years or so, and his great grandson Rob and his father decided to replicate some of the sauce. While the recipe for this sauce had been in the family for at least a hundred and twenty years, it had largely been forgotten. Rob and his father tweaked the recipe over a period of about fifteen years on their farm in northern Zimbabwe, until they achieved what they were looking for.

After his father passed away, Rob continued to make the sauce and was often told by friends that he should sell it. So, Rob decided to give it a bash. He made a hundred bottles of the sauce and supplied it to an outlet in Harare. All the sauce was sold in no time at all.

It was much to Rob’s surprise when he received a call from an American UCLA business student from Los Angeles who had visited Zimbabwe.  He had bought the sauce and liked it so much that he thought he could make a business of selling the sauces in the USA. He said to Rob he wanted to buy a thousand litres to do just that

While the business student finally didn’t land up buying the 1000 litres of sauce, Rob learned that his business school professor had decided to turn the Chilli  sauce into a project for his students. He wanted to take them through each step it took to take a product manufactured in Zimbabwe to market. This meant importing the sauce and taking it through a series of taste tests, shelf life and food safety tests to verify it was fit to market to consumers. Once happy with the results, they proceeded to the next step – branding and marketing

Before this could be done, market research was required.  Taste testing was done across Los Angeles, and much to everyone’s astonishment, the sauce received such good feedback from demographic surveys   that it was virtually guaranteed to succeed as a product across the whole of the USA. This is a phenomenon that rarely happens. The product had scored more than double most businessmen would consider as a good bet to taking a product to market. . It was at that moment that Rob realised he had a special product, and he should do something with it. It was the start of things to come. What he primarily considered to be a hobby would turn into something far bigger.


Dr Trouble Chili sauce

Africas finest Chilli sauce

As time went on, the company started exporting sauces to various countries around the world. While doing so, Rob discovered that not everybody liked the smoky taste of the original sauce that his great grandfather had written down. So while maintaining the double smoked version of the sauce (Dr Trouble Double Oak smoked Chilli sauce), he decided to make a sauce with the same base ingredients, but to leave the smoking process out. This resulted in Dr Trouble Lemon Chilli sauce. Both these products are very successful wherever they are sold.Dr Trouble Chilli sauce

Today, Dr Trouble, the company Rob Fletcher formed, exports to over ten countries around the globe, including the USA, the UK, Germany, Sweden, Spain, and Singapore.  Dr Trouble only manufactures 250 000 bottles per year and are quite happy to keep their range of  Chilli sauces between this level and 300 000 bottles. Trying to make them on a larger commercial scale would undermine what the sauces are all about. Dr Trouble Chilli sauces are after all artisanal sauces with great character, made with great love and passion, using only the best ingredients that nature can provide

Another of Rob Fletcher’s passions besides his sauces is wildlife. The income that the sale of his Chilli sauces provides also allows him to contribute generously towards an initiative in Zimbabwe to prevent poaching. He contributes to the  Akashinga rangers, an all-women anti-poaching unit in Zimbabwe.

I am sure Robert Alexander Fletcher would be proud of his great grandson. My hat certainly goes off to Rob.

You can buy Dr Trouble sauces at our web store @ The Chilli Workshop Shop 

Image credits:

Kai Hendry / CC by 2 / via Flickr








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