A new business model for releasing the best of food

A RECIPE record label. That's how Tom Watts describes the idea behind his new business venture, The secret recipe company.

A RECIPE record label. That's how Tom Watts describes the idea behind his new business venture, The secret recipe company.

The goal behind the company is to find great recipes and release them.

"You would not believe it people are sending me jars and cakes, it's mental," said Mr Watts who was recording his pitch to the Dragon's Den at last weekend.

A cheese sandwich spawned the idea. While having a packed lunch a friend gave Mr Watts some home-made cucumber pickle to put in his sandwich. "The taste of it stuck with me, you remember it, you have some kind of conscious memory of the taste. Whatever it was it resonated with me. I love silverskin onions and beetroot and salad cream anything with that kind of tangy taste. Every time I went to a food shop or a deli from then on, I'd have some of the cucumber pickle, definitely have some of the cucumber pickle and every single one of them was a let down. Every single one" said Mr Watts.

It was two years before Mr Watts got around to making the cucumber pickle, or secret recipe number one as it's now known. He was running a successful wallpaper company called Imagine Wallpaper that provided high resolution images for interior walls. Mr Watts set the company up in 2005 and for years he was snowed under but at the end of the summer it was like "somebody turned off a switched" he said. Mr Watts relied on designers and architects to specify him. " Half of the people I worked with are gone, the interior designers who used to give me an awful lot of work are completely the same as me, checking their phones to see if they are broken," he said.

In September Mr Watts found himself with enough free time to start working on The Secret Recipe Company. He got the recipe for the cucumber pickle and he was a little surprised by it. "There was a bit of a tweak in the technique of how you make it. So I rang him and I was like, what the hell is this with the? I can't tell you what it is but it's a tweak in the technique. It's quite strange, it's totally a normal thing but your kind of like, that's mad going in here. So I rang him and he said I know yeah its a bit mad but it works."

The tweak in the cucumber pickle recipe got Mr Watts thinking about family recipes and techniques that have been handed down through families for making bread or pickle or jam. Nobody is under any compunction to share their grandmothers amazing recipes. "I said to my friend, that pickle, if I offer to make it under my brand and I give you a royalty a percentage of the profits, what do you think of that ? and he said yeah absolutely perfect, because he didn't really have to do anything just sit back and if like if I sell 100,000 jars he gets X and happy day and he's not actually losing anything because I won't give the recipe to anybody else because that's not in my interest."

Mr Watts launched the secret recipe number one cucumber pickle at savour Kilkenny and he was amazed at the feedback. "It was mad better than I could have hoped for. 250 jars sold, I'd never sold or made a jar in my life. It may not sound like a lot but when you put 250 jars in front of you think that is a whole load of pickle to get out. When you think that each jar went to a family, so people are definitely talking about it. The best thing for me was, it was the best market research exercise you could ever do."

At Savour Kilkenny Mr Watts met John and Sally McKenna who are responsible for producing the Bridgestone guide. The McKenna's loved the idea behind the secret recipe company. John McKenna told Mr Watts that his idea was an "absolute gold mine of a concept because the thing that sells food at the moment is the story. You have a great story about the secret recipe company, but he said that best thing is that every other recipe you bring out under the brand will have a ready made back story."

Mr Watts is already inundated with cakes and food being sent in for consideration for the Secret recipe company's next release. "I got a really interesting one recently that I think could be a contender, but I have a tasting panel. The tasting panel is made up of a few people who are really interested in helping me and I keep asking them really cheekily if they'll do this and that for me. My tasting panel are going to convene once every six months and in the meantime people will send everything to me and if I like it, it goes into a yes box. Then every six months I'll take the yes box to the tasting panel and the panel will all taste it. If a product gets past the panel I'll sign a non disclosure agreement with that person so that they can the tell me their recipe so that I can cost it, because the only way I can cost a product is to know exactly how it's made. Once everything has been costed, production, distribution, etc, I'll offer the owner a percentage. Then your in a position where they can go you most be mad, or yeah you can go ahead with that."

Secret Recipe number one is available Knockdrinna Farm Shop, Shortis Wong, Bridie's, Growing Greener, The Coach House, Kilkenny Design Food Hall, The Good Earth, The Gourmet Store, Glasrai & Goodies, and Gleesons Deli, Booterstown Avenue, Dublin.