Two Sisters And ‘The Jelly With A Bite’
By Kerri Cooke
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” — Virginia Woolf
I first became acquainted with Bulldog Pepper Jelly last Christmas. First I met Loran White, the husband of the mastermind of the jelly, through a mutual acquaintance, as he was out distributing the jelly in the Lake area. I saw jars of Roasted Garlic Pepper Jelly, Roasted Pecan Pepper Jelly and Kadota fig. Later, I received a Crave gift basket for the holidays and in it was a jar of strawberry pepper jelly. The pepper jelly was destined to show up one more time when I was at a Flavin Realty Christmas lunch. Someone had brought several cream cheeses topped with various flavors of the pepper jelly.
So who is behind this pepper jelly, where is it from and how do you find it in Southwest Louisiana?
Kim White and Cindy Anders are partners in the Louisiana company known as Bulldog Pepper Jelly. The jelly was originally created by White, who, as it turns out, is originally a native of Westlake. When she was in her early to mid-20s, White opened a gift store in Westlake named Victoria’s Garden. She would continue that business for 17 years.
Long after opening this store, she and her three sisters inherited her great-grandparents’ farm in Lone Pine, La.
White and Anders proceeded to move to the farm. They grew up in a family that loved the land, even down to the smell of the soil, and cooking with the fruits of it. White says what makes gardening so special is “you plant a seed and it’s not about even patience. It’s about … knowing that when I put that in there, I expect it to happen.”
As White surveyed the crops they were growing, she began to grow peppers, as well. She said her recipe began with her love for pepper jelly. She wanted to create a homemade recipe that she enjoyed.
The first pepper jelly she created was a regular jalapeño jelly. As she looked at the rest of the bounty the land provided, specifically the 100-year old pecan trees, she created a roasted pecan flavor. Also, since she loves garlic, she created a roasted garlic variety, as well. Other flavors include strawberry, made from local strawberries, and cranberry fig and Kadota fig, which are only available around the holidays.
The Pepper Jelly Mascot
White named her jelly Bulldog Pepper Jelly out of love for her two bulldogs, JoJo and Rocco. Her daughter even has a bulldog, Pearl the French Girl, with her own Instagram page.
Rocco and JoJo were brother and sister. When Rocco passed away last July, JoJo grieved the loss of her life partner for 4 months. However, White says, now JoJo thinks she is the alpha female and “famous because she’s on the side of our van.”
Transitioning Into Business
White started making the jelly a decade ago. She gave many jars away to family members, who, in turn, told her she should sell it. She began going to local shows. Twelve years ago, at her first show, the Forest Hill Garden Show, she completely sold out of her inventory.
Two years ago, White had gotten to her breaking point. She was making 250 jars of jelly a day by herself in her farmhouse kitchen. It was then she decided she would either have to let the business go or take it mainstream. She decided on the later, and enlisted her sister, Anders, to come on as her full-time partner.
White and Anders are a lot like twins. They look alike, think alike and share the same passions of gardening, cooking, traveling, going on adventures and meeting new people. So the partnership was the perfect step for both of them.
After the agreement, the sisters partnered with a co-packer. A factory began to make the jelly, in much larger batches than they could make on a kitchen stove. The jelly is made in 100 gallon kettles but still hand-poured and overseen by a large crew to ensure the homemade quality of the jelly.
Showing The Jelly
The next step was to get the jelly into as many hands as possible. White and Anders began traveling to different shows to present the jelly. They love that they get to travel and present their products to many new people. They make new friends at every turn. The sisters go to many holidays markets, including Mistletoe and Moss. The rest of their shows are mainly Jr. League shows.
However, they went to the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York at the end of June and beginning of July in 2018 and the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco in January.
The Fancy Food show boasts anywhere from 2,000 to 2,500 vendors who represent every genre in food. The show is a place for newbies or established companies to display and give samples of their product in order to garner the attention of suppliers, such as large grocery stores chains or boutique stores.
White and Anders were sponsored by the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator, from which they gain much support in developing their products. The incubator has food scientists who help starter businesses research their food and get the ratios right regardless of how big a batch of a product they might be producing.
Bulldog Pepper Jelly was even in the swag bags given to Oscar nominees in 2018. The sisters believe it is the French Bulldog connection that helped get their product to Hollywood, since “lots of people in the industry have French bulldogs.”
Into The Stores
The next goal was to get the jelly into as many stores as possible — a process that takes tenacity. Bulldog Pepper Jelly is now in over 200 stores and in 7 states across the South, including all the Rouses stores.
What comes with being in stores is the opportunity to do demos. White and Anders set up a booth at a store, usually at the end of the week. They allow people to taste their jelly and just get to know the people they come into contact with. In this business, it “helps 1,000 percent to be a people person.”
White and Anders have four push cards with micro-recipes available that people can pick up when buying the jelly. Also, there are plans in the works to create an inexpensive spiralbound recipe book that can be picked up at a point of sale.
A recent project the dynamic sisters have embarked on is gracing the TV screen once a month for Weekends With Whitney, a show that broadcasts on Sunday mornings at 9 on WBRZ Channel 2 in Baton Rouge. For those of us who do not live in eastern Louisiana, episodes are uploaded to YouTube shortly after they air.
The sisters were introduced to the host of the show through a mutual friend and everyone just clicked. White and Anders were only supposed to be on the show one time, but Weekends With Whitney wanted more.
The first episode consisted of getting to know the sisters, with their extroverted and fun personalities, and their signature pepper jelly. The second episode featured them, Anders getting very hands-on, cooking while adding the pepper jelly as a sauce or glaze. Now, White and Anders are scheduled to cook for a holiday each month. The March episode was about cooking with King Cakes; it bore the tagline “Jelly Gras.”
White and Anders seek to capitalize with their personality on this show. White makes it clear that they are not expert cooks. They never practice what they are going to do on the show beforehand. What you see is what they are doing for the first time. They seek to give a down-to-earth feel to the program and show people how to rescue a meal if something goes wrong, because, at some point or another, it inevitably will. White and Anders are not striving for perfection, but just a good ole’ Louisiana time.
Cooking on Weekends With Whitney gives the sisters a chance to advance one of their goals. I don’t know about you, but when I think about jelly, I imagine it on toast, and many people like it as a condiment on cream cheese. White admits that she “won’t eat bacon, eggs and toast without [jelly] on [it].” However, White and Anders are on a mission to show people that pepper jelly can be added to almost anything. They want it to become a staple in your pantry, just like olive oil or Tony Chachere’s, and show people how to cook with it like a seasoning.
Expanding The Business
White admits that she eats the jelly in some form or another every day. Pepper jelly can be substituted in almost any recipe that calls for sugar. White uses her roasted garlic pepper jelly instead of refined sugar to make her spaghetti sauce both sweet and spicy. The jelly can be used to create a glaze to put over meat that is sizzling on the grill, as a condiment for burgers or a stuffing for pastries. While sales of Bulldog Pepper Jelly usually increase around the Christmas season, White and Anders want to take their jelly beyond a seasonal dipping sauce and teach people how to use it as an everyday essential.
This year, the sisters are planning to focus more on demos in stores than traveling to different specialty shows. They are trying to grow the brand responsibly and avoid spreading themselves too thin.
They do have plans for new products and flavors. But those probably won’t hit the market until the end of this year or next year. White says she has made them in her kitchen, but isn’t ready to launch the products yet. Bulldog Pepper Jelly has only been in business for two years and it needs a solid customer base — people who use and cook with it on a regular basis — before expanding so the brand doesn’t suffer.
If you have no idea how to use pepper jelly to cook, there are many ideas on Bulldog Pepper Jelly’s Instagram and Facebook pages. Also, bulldogpepperjelly.com is about to get a blog section where recipes modified to include pepper jelly will be posted.
Another plan the sisters have up their sleeve is to, perhaps, go and cook for dinner parties. They are already self-described “party poppers” and emphasize they “love a party, so why not cook for a party?”
Also, White and Anders are planning a personal YouTube channel, apart from Bulldog Pepper Jelly, to show their day-to-day shenanigans. They are two women who love life and want to share their lifestyle tips with those interested. They hope to capitalize with their fun personalities and allow people to get to know them while they share cooking, gardening and traveling tips.
But the new YouTube channel can have a two-fold effect. It is a natural instinct to support a friend when they come out with a product. If strangers come to know the bubbly personalities of White and Anders, that connection could transfer to sales. However, this isn’t the primary goal of the YouTube channel. It is mainly a way for the sisters to have fun and share their adventures, unfiltered by the business.
Social media is an effective way to interact with the community, locally and globally, and has the ability to bring fresh content to their followers in real time. It is a way to stay relevant in a digital world. When asked how important social media is to the business, the sisters’ firm conviction is “social media is a lifeline, every bit as important … as the quality of our jelly… [it’s] the way we represent our jelly in person. All three of those add up to 100 percent.”
A lot of preparation can go into a social media page. And every week, White and Anders travel to Baton Rouge to White’s daughter Emily’s house to cook with the jelly, take pictures for Instagram and have a family meal.
Personality Drives The Company
The most important aspect of Bulldog Pepper Jelly is White and Anders. The product is a good one. But their dedication to what they do and their personalities is what makes all the difference.
Since they live only five houses apart, they get up in the mornings, meet, and “high-five and [say] we’re on vacation today.” “If it’s not fun, we’re not going to do it” is their motto. Enjoying what you do is the key to avoiding burnout.
The sisters also have a bohemian or gypsy way they dress that gets them a lot of attention. Often, you will see them in hats and relaxed gardening dresses. Most of their clothes are made by Anders. The rest of their attire comes from Cruella’s here in Lake Charles. The way they dress is a common talking point when they’re doing jelly demos in stores.
An important thing White mentions about Southwest Louisiana is that even though Bulldog Pepper Jelly is distributed in 40 stores in Baton Rouge and there is heavier marketing in the eastern end of the state, it is the people of Calcasieu Parish that are the biggest supporters of the business.
Lake Charles and the surrounding areas don’t carry the pepper jelly in many stores. But when social media demographics are pulled up, Lake Charles has the highest number of people engaging with posts, even though other areas are targeted much more. The moral support of a hometown community can boost confidence like nothing else.
Bulldog Pepper Jelly can be found in Lake Charles at Crave Gourmet, Homsi’s Deli, Rouses Market and Paisley Peach. It is also carried in Westlake at Body & Sol and in Sulphur at Hamilton House and Rouses Market. Also, Botsky’s now offers either the roasted garlic or jalapeño pepper jelly as condiments for their burgers.
Regardless of the success of the pepper jelly, White and Anders say their parents are “so proud [that they] kept the legacy of hospitality and family in this home.” They are continuing a legacy built on love of the land, love of each other and love of life with all its vagaries.