The Journey of True’s Gourmet Hot Mustard
In the world of specialty food products, True’s Gourmet Hot Mustard has quickly made a name for itself with its unique sweet heat flavor. Founded by Mary Clayton Carl Jones, a freelance photo stylist, the company has turned a beloved family recipe into a thriving business.
The Inspiration Behind True’s Gourmet Hot Mustard:
Mary Clayton’s journey with True’s Gourmet Hot Mustard began during the pandemic when photo shoots were scarce. To pass the time, she started making her mom’s hot mustard recipe for friends and colleagues. The mustard quickly gained popularity, and Mary Clayton saw an opportunity to turn it into a business. As a tribute to her mother, Trueheart, Mary Clayton named the company after her, showcasing the strong bond between them and their shared love for good food.
What Sets True’s Gourmet Hot Mustard Apart:
True’s Gourmet Hot Mustard stands out in the market due to its small-batch production and unique flavor profile. The mustard offers a perfect balance of sweet and tangy, with just the right amount of heat. True’s Gourmet Hot Mustard exceeds the realm of ordinary condiments, as its versatility allows it to function as a delicious marinade, a flavorful foundation for salad dressings, and a delightful dipping sauce, demonstrating its endless possibilities. Mary Clayton’s commitment to quality and consistency has helped the company gain recognition, including a feature in Southern Living magazine’s “Thank Your Host” gift guide. True’s Gourmet Hot Mustard targets people who love to entertain and appreciate gourmet food products. The mustard makes for a great gift, and the goal is to get it as many kitchens as she can!
Introducing Mary Clayton Carl Jones and the Journey of True’s Gourmet Hot Mustard: A Tribute to Her Mother, Trueheart.
What inspired you to start this business and what problem does it aim to solve?
I am a freelance photo stylist and during the pandemic, there were very limited photo shoots being scheduled. So, I started making my Mom’s hot mustard recipe for my friends and colleagues. It was wildly popular and I decided to make it into a business. There aren’t many speciality mustards like mine out there.
What steps did you take to create your business and how did you launch it?
First, I decided if I was really going to do this thing, I was going to do it properly. So, I enrolled in Cornell’s online Food Product Development Program. It was intense. First of all, I wasn’t really prepared for what I was getting myself into and it scared the bejesus out of me. As it should. But I was determined to make it happen. I learned that making a food product for the masses entailed so much more than I had ever thought of and that I needed to find a co-packer as soon as possible (more on than later). After that, Alabama requires you to take an acidification operator’s license course in order to sell mustard. Both of these programs instilled the safety protocols and the necessary steps to make your product safe to consume as well as the broader picture.
We had our soft launch last year at the TSC Summit and officially launched at the summer ATL gift show. It’s been hellva ride so far!
Who is your target audience, and how do you plan to reach them?
Our target audience is people who love to entertain. We are a gourmet food product, our mustard is a great gift as well. It is also extremely versatile. We want to teach people how to use it. In fact, we hired recipe developers to help come up with unique ways to use it. As for reaching our target audience, currently, we are going to trade shows to reach new markets for stores to sell our mustard as well as trying to get press. Next year, we hope to break into the grocery market.
What has been the most significant milestone or achievement for your business so far?
We were just featured in Southern Living magazine’s “Thank Your Host” gift guide.
How has your background or previous experience helped you in starting and running this business?
Let me just say I’m very fortunate in this regard! It wasn’t as scary of an endeavor as it could have been without my prior career. My experience as a prop stylist, specifically working a lot in food and high end brands, has helped me immensely. First, I will give credit where credit is due, I am married to a mad genius (and I do mean mad as insane) who does photography, cinematography, graphic design and animation. One could say free labor – but anyone who works with their partner knows its not free -it consumes your dinners, your conversations, opinions, oh the opinions, etc… However, I’m very fortunate that I have someone insanely talented helping me. Recently, we have been playing with animation for our social media as it seems to be different than everything you see out there currently. It’s definitely a work in progress.
To those WONDERFUL friends who encouraged me to make this into a business, I have made them put their money where their mouth is and help me to find the right consistency when I scaled the recipe up and to help develop recipes for me. Over the years, I have developed great publishing contacts that have been extremely helpful to me to getting my product in front of the right audience. I’m very lucky in the regard.
Can you share some challenges you’ve faced while setting up your business and how you overcame them?
Oh my god, where do I start? I remember one day I got a phone call that I had ordered 3,000 jars that were just slightly taller and slimmer than the ones I had been using and my labels were too big for these new jugs AND the mustard was already being cooked. I just had happened to have some contractors at our house when I got the call. I told them that they had to leave because I needed to have a breakdown, but have it quickly. I literally laid down on the floor and lost it. Then I gathered myself up and figured out a solution. Use plastic jugs that I knew they had in stock for restaurant use. So it all worked out. I laugh now, it just wasn’t nearly as big of a deal as I thought it was at the time. Yet, at the time is was huge. BUT my biggest challenge was to find someone to manufacture the mustard which is known as a co-packer. Initially, I found one that was small and he could never get the consistency correct, but I went with him because I needed someone. Well, ultimately he went out of business and I was extremely lucky to get in with a very large co-packing facility where they nailed the consistency of the mustard and we will be able to scale up easily.
Everyday is a learning curve. I feel like things are definitely getting a little better defined. But it is just that, a learning curve and I have leaned hard on other people better established than I. They have been kind enough to take the time to help me. (Amy Mills, I’m talking to you and many others!)
What are your short-term and long-term goals for your business?
Short term goals are to get into as many kitchens, hands, stores, markets and grocery stores as possible. We would like to be become your go-to gift, your secret weapon in the kitchen and eventually, a brand you know and can’t live without.
Long term goal is to sell True’s Gourmet and found the Trueheart Foundation. My mom was very active in her younger years with an organization that’s premise was “If you educate a woman, you educate family.” I’d like to play off of that and help women find the help they need in different aspects of education and healthcare.
How do you see the industry evolving in the coming years, and how do you plan to adapt your business to these changes?
I think old school marketing is evolving with social media. I think its important to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to our marketing. NOW, to anyone who really knows me, I loathe social media as a person. I post pics of sunsets. BUT I do get it, so I’m really working hard to make a concerted effort to watch emerging trends of successful companies and begin to create our own not just visually but with brand marketing as well.
Are there any partnerships or collaborations that have been crucial to your business’s growth?
Actually, I just did a collaboration with In the Curious Kitchen ( TSC Alum), Piedmont Pennies (future sponsor at TSC summit) and Ashley Mac’s (also TSC alum) for a giveaway. I met Becca from Piedmont Pennies at the ATL gift show and I just loved both her and her product. So, I reached out to her to do a giveaway together. She suggested I reach out to MK of In the Curious Kitchen who was happy to oblige (who has been has been so willing to share her contacts and help me) and last but certainly not least, I ran into Ashley at a Birmingham event and asked her to donate her new cookbook. ALL of these women helped me as a baby company grow followers and took a chance on True’s. It was fun and all of my friends and family are now addicted to their products and giving them as Christmas presents.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs looking to start a business in your industry?
People do judge a book by its cover. Make sure your packaging or branding is show stopping.
Don’t be shy to ask people questions who are well more established than you. People are way more willing to help than you think.
Make sure you surround yourself with people who want you to succeed and listen to their advice, but also follow your gut too! And try to enjoy the ride!
At the end of the day, you are going to make mistakes. Fail but fail quickly. And get back up.
Tell me something that most people don’t know about you,
I’m an extroverted sensualist and an introverted intuitive. Which means most people think I’m super outgoing and love the spotlight, but in all honestly, I’m not. I pick my parties and I love them but you wont see me again for a while. I have a pretty small, close group of friends and I don’t really go out that much. I realized far too late in life that I have anxiety and always felt compelled to “perform”, but that was all on me. Now, I like real conversations and small gatherings. But events like the TSC Summit, although big, rejuvenate my creative energy.
How to Shop:
For those interested in learning more about True’s Gourmet Hot Mustard or becoming a store that carries True’s, please visit www.truesgourmet.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org