A Smart Choice
Smart Choice Farm Sauce GuyThursday, June 10, 2021
Thirty-three years ago, Bernd “Michael” Hasenbichler made a decision that changed the course of his life. Born in Vienna, Austria, he left the corporate world of finance/hedge fund management and relocated to the Bahamas. Unbeknownest to him at that time was that after living there for almost 20 years, he would pull up roots, land at the Sangster International Airport, Montego Bay, Jamaica, in 2013, and not look back.
Fresh off the plane, unfamiliar with the island and its people (he literally knew no one), he settled in Negril, Westmoreland. According to Hasenbichler, “Instinctively, I knew I was home and could make a living here. Jamaica is a land of opportunities.”
A self-professed foodie, he explored the local cuisine, but could not find the restaurant where the offerings suited his palate. He entertained the idea of starting a pizza and coffee café, a niche market in which he believed that he could not only make a decent living, but one that would also add to the food landscape in Negril or Montego Bay and tap into the unmet needs of visitors and locals alike, who, like him, wanted an authentic island life experience.
After spending about six months in Negril, he travelled to Kingston and the idea of getting into farming was born. He went through the process of acquiring land for lease. It was far from smooth sailing! After several hiccups and not-so-prudent decisions, Smart Choice Farms Jamaica Limited was incorporated in 2014.
The name was carefully chosen, as he intended to approach farming using a capital-intensive and hi-tech system of growing food cleanly and sustainably. Having completed a careful and strategic market analysis and based on import statistics on Irish potatoes and onions, he settled on the idea of farming these products locally. He would however, need an “in-between crop” to make this new venture successful. Scotch bonnet peppers became that crop.
It should be noted, he tells Thursday Food, that “I did not know about the existence of Scotch bonnet peppers until I arrived in Jamaica, even after living in The Bahamas and travelling to Miami for 20-plus years. Local manufacturing companies, which were in the business of making pepper sauce for local and overseas consumption became my buyers. I also exported some.”
Fraught with Government bureaucracy and praedial larceny, after four years, in 2018, he lost the lease on the land. His business model failed but not his passion for Scotch bonnet peppers' unique taste and diversity, and having sampled the locally manufactured and imported pepper sauce, he decided to transition into the manufacturing of pepper sauces. Not just any pepper sauce, but one that is intense in the “scotchie” flavour and where all ingredients are natural — not water or vinegar-based, with added corn starch and sugar, like some of the locally manufactured or imported brands.
He rebranded and incorporated Smart Choice Farms Manufacturers, under which he would sell his unique brand of pepper sauces, as he says, “I wanted to manufacture a sauce the way I liked it.” Subsequently, he went into partnership with Kountry Delite, a producing and manufacturing company located in Cross Roads.
In 2016, his first sauce, Pineapple Flavoured Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce (with real pineapple and Scotch bonnet pepper) was introduced to his clients as a Christmas gift in sample size packages. The reviews were great.
Encouraged, he added the Mango Flavoured Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce, Papaya Flavoured Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce, Guava Flavoured Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce, and an unadulterated Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce, which he affectionately named Unplugged. “It is music to the taste buds and the idea came as naturally as the product. I just wanted a sauce that would indulge the palate in an unadulterated taste and made from real and fully ripened fruits,” he shares.
Come 2021, he introduced a new sauce, Spicy Pineapple Barbecue Sauce, which he says complements any meat or vegetable choice put on the grill.
The Smart Choice brand of sauces has now saturated the local market. Hasenbichler also exports, especially to European markets where he has gained some traction.
Chances are you have seen his products in the large supermarket chains. If not, take a closer look at the condiments on the shelves on your next visit and look for the green label with the symbol of two rabbit ears which is a play on his surname “Hasenbichler” – Hasen, which means rabbit on a hill.
Smart Choice Farms Jamaica is a one-man operation. Hasenbichler delivers his products islandwide, but intends, in the near future, to employ marketing managers to assist him. It's a consideration he's not taking lightly, as over the years he has built a solid personal relationship with clients, and just like his sauces he does not want to dilute that experience.
The products are marketed (especially for his overseas clients) at www.smartchoiceja.com; Facebook and Instagram @smartchoiceja. He can also be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
— Pauline Edie, Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards judge