The Dr Trouble Chilli sauce story

In search of adventure

Upon his arrival in Africa during the late 19th century, Robert Alexander Fletcher, a Scottish cartographer seeking adventure, unknowingly laid the foundation for one of Africa’s premier chilli sauces. The genesis of Dr Trouble Chilli sauces can be traced back to Fletcher’s experiences in Zimbabwe and the unique journey that unfolded.

Initially employed by the infamous British colonialist Cecil John Rhodes, Fletcher embarked on a mission to map the territories colonized by Rhodes, collectively known as Rhodesia. Armed with just a rifle, salt, and a flint, he and his assistant traversed the African bushveld on horseback, relying on their hunting skills to procure sustenance from the wild. Survival also meant depending on the numerous streams and rivers for water.

During his extensive travels, Fletcher received a gift of chillies from an African tribal leader. These chillies, likely of the African Birds-eye variety, may have reached the region through trade with Arab or Portuguese merchants. Fletcher, envisioning possibilities, retained some of these chillies as seeds. It’s plausible that, in the heart of the African wilderness, he experimented with combining these chillies with wild lemons and salt to enhance the flavour of the meats grilled over open fires.

Upon returning home, Fletcher cultivated the seeds and delved into refining the knowledge acquired in the bushveld. His experimentation led to a meticulous process, including sun fermentation, resulting in a chili sauce that satisfied his discerning palate. The rudimentary recipe for this unique concoction was recorded on the back of a notebook, marking the genesis of the renowned Dr Trouble Chili sauces. It was the start of bigger and better things to come

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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