Can you handle the heat? George and Erin of Yellowbird Hot Sauce share the secret to their sauce

Jan 26, 2022

From their kitchen to 10,000 retail shelves, Yellowbird has reinvented the hot sauce category with their veggie-forward recipes. George and Erin share their humble beginnings, success in the marketplace and sustainability efforts.

Show Notes:

Learn More about Yellowbird – https://www.yellowbirdfoods.com/

Pretty ok transcript:


[00:00:20] Mason: one. This’ll be for George

[00:00:34] George Milton of Yellowbird: You just go like this and I’ll get.

[00:00:38] Mason: Welcome to the mostly green life podcast. We have George and Aaron who started yellow bird, hot sauce together in 2013. And it has become a national star in the what’s the category clean ingredient, condiment.

[00:00:51] George Milton of Yellowbird: Yeah. Better for you, better for your condiments.


[00:00:55] Mason: These who come from very diverse backgrounds with George, a live performer and Aaron hailing from, I always like to say waste management, but you spend a lot of time in

[00:01:03] Erin Link of Yellowbird: recycling as well. Yeah, I did. I did on the design side of recycling, the marketing side of recycling, which is more fun, but yeah.


[00:01:12] Mason: you invent the little.

[00:01:15] George Milton of Yellowbird: The

[00:01:15] Erin Link of Yellowbird: arrows she did. Oh man. I wish

[00:01:17] George Milton of Yellowbird: I could just be two arrows go next to each other. And she was like, what if you had a third arrow revolutionized the industry? The beginning

[00:01:26] Erin Link of Yellowbird: is the end and the end is the beginning. Amazing. I think

[00:01:30] George Milton of Yellowbird: this is going well so far.

[00:01:32] Mason: So how did you

[00:01:33] George Milton of Yellowbird: do.

Uh, we met at a bar, like all great love stories begin. Was it a dueling piano bar? It was, yeah, for me that night I was playing that night and I thought Aaron was way more impressed with me than she was. I found out later.

[00:01:48] Erin Link of Yellowbird: Why did you think of him? I mean, I think that

[00:01:52] George Milton of Yellowbird: neon is better. Yeah. She kept trying to go to his switch to his side.


[00:02:03] Erin Link of Yellowbird: no comment, no comment.

[00:02:06] George Milton of Yellowbird: She requested Foxy lady and I thought I did it. I thought it did a pretty great, I thought it did a pretty great job of it considering it was on piano. Yeah, I know. I figured out this. I figured that, that this was the reaction later. Anyway.

[00:02:21] Mason: And so George, you still play at a dueling piano

[00:02:25] George Milton of Yellowbird: bar?

Uh, every, every once in a while. I don’t have time to do it, you know, it’s five nights a week, but,

[00:02:33] Mason: Are you still picking up.

[00:02:34] George Milton of Yellowbird: Alright, Mason, I told you to be cool, man.

[00:02:40] Mason: What, what would y’all say is wrong with the traditional condiment selection out there?

[00:02:46] George Milton of Yellowbird: I think that what happened for a long time was that in most of kind of like large scale food, the goal was just to feed as many people as possible. And so. The industrial age industrialization of food happened, which was great for feeding a growing planet, but not great for our individual health and wellbeing.

And so I think a lot of categories are in the process of recovering from that recovering from like the over industrialization, like we’ve solved so many of the logistical problems. You know, and I know it’s a weird time to say it, weird time in the world to say that we’ve solved logistical problems, but we’ve solved a lot of these problems that made it not easy to feed, seven, 8 billion people.

And I think that they’re the big companies. I don’t necessarily think big condiment companies or big whatever processed food companies are evil, but it’s very hard to change. Those processes once they’re a $20 billion food company and they’re making, you know, ketchup or hot sauce a certain way, it’s that it gets really hard to change.

[00:03:57] Erin Link of Yellowbird: was just going to say yes. And to take that even farther, I think that we’ve gotten too smart for our own good. So we’ve turned it into, yeah, that was a good condiment. Now, how, how can we make it more addictive and add more of the bad stuff that makes it more addictive for people and. They just can test these things really easily now and put just really bad stuff so that people would just want more of like sugar, whatever it is.

Right. Anyway, that’s what I just wanted to add on top of that, because yeah. Yeah.

[00:04:26] Jess: Filled with salts and sugars and fats and preservatives

[00:04:31] George Milton of Yellowbird: things are good though.

[00:04:32] Erin Link of Yellowbird: They taste so good

[00:04:34] Mason: addictive. And I think I haven’t heard, did y’all ever hear almost all condiments used to be fermented and. One of the reasons they came around was to help us digest food.

Cause they were permanent.

[00:04:45] George Milton of Yellowbird: Did y’all read that lawyer go? Yeah, I think, I think condiments from lots of cultures have traditionally been fermented. Yeah. I mean, they used to get

[00:04:54] Erin Link of Yellowbird: anything thrown into them. If you, if you’ve ever heard the story of ketchup Heinz, they used to just have junk, you know, and that’s why they were in scans and, and Heinz is in a glass bottle from the very beginning because they wanted to say, look, this is the color of our sauce.

Look how beautiful it is. And there’s not garbage in it. Right. So, yeah.

[00:05:14] Mason: Humble beginnings to a sugar filled. Contribution to the end of America,

[00:05:20] Erin Link of Yellowbird: just Kate.

[00:05:21] Jess: So tell us your story. How did yellow

[00:05:23] George Milton of Yellowbird: bird start? So we’ve told the story a thousand times

[00:05:28] Erin Link of Yellowbird: better this time.

[00:05:29] George Milton of Yellowbird: Every version is a little different.

This is going to be the best version so far. So we met in Houston. We moved to Austin. We both quit our jobs and moved to Austin unemployed in 2012. Like you do, that’s the way to move to Austin. I think we all know and understand that And I was making hot sauce just at home because we were trying to eat cleaner and.

Make better choices in the grocery store and could not find the type of like hot sauce or condiment that I wanted to exist. And so I just made it up at home, took a lot of trial and error to kind of come up with something that was good and spicy and like had the right consistency and was just made out of food.

[00:06:10] Mason: And what kind of research did you do for that? I mean, that sounds like a fascinating process.

[00:06:14] George Milton of Yellowbird: Well, the first thing that I did was try to find somebody else who making it, like, just trying to find it so I could buy it and it didn’t exist. So I was like, oh, I could, uh, I to make the story even longer.

I used to love, when I was in college, reverse engineering foods, there was a whole, there was all kinds of movement around. Reverse engineering like, oh, here’s a recipe. There’d be bulletin boards on the internet. Here’s I figured out a recipe for Reese’s peanut butter cups or something.

People would want it to reverse engineer. So I re I did all of this stuff, way, way back in the day. So the first thing I did was I said, my favorite hot sauce, which is the Julio Frank’s Russia. And I just was like, reverse engineered it. Like, how can I make exactly that product? And then I started tweaking it, one piece at a time to I’d like it to have way, way less sugar, no preservatives, but still needs to be able to stay fresh for a little while. And so it was just one thing at a time. Like I had a really, I had a big notebook worth of stuff and our pantry was filled with jars of experiments. Some of them had numbers and some of them didn’t and the numbers may or may not have corresponded to something in a notebook.

It was just like this really long iterative process. And I wasn’t in a rush because there was no, it wasn’t like I had to go to market strategy. It was just, I wanted to make something that was good. And so it was just well, it takes the time that it takes, which is often not something that you get in the business world.

Yeah. Like you don’t really get the time that it takes. It’s do you know in two weeks or whatever, so yeah.

[00:07:41] Jess: You know that you had found the recipe.

[00:07:43] Erin Link of Yellowbird: This is my favorite part. Okay.

[00:07:46] George Milton of Yellowbird: Yeah, well, we, so it had been, we had tried all sorts of stuff and I was talking about fermented condiments. I was, I was trying to like naturally fermented and then I started experimenting, from it, I put all sorts of weird shit in the first versions.

The first year and a half I was experimenting. I was like, oh, we had one version that was like champagne yeast that I fermented it with. And champagne uses not easily. Kill. So it’s had exploding bottles of hot sauce that I was sampling to chefs and stuff. But then we had, I think one weekend we were gonna go somewhere.

We’re going to go out of town or maybe we’re going to go visit your folks in Houston. But we put, we had some stuff left in the fridge and we had carrots and some tangerines and stuff to ingredients. I had never tried and hot sauce, but we just had them there and it was probably. Our 500 version of the sauce.

And I was just like, oh, I’m going to throw some stuff in a blender together. And, and, uh, whatever, you know, batch 500 is not going to be the one. And so we just threw some stuff in a blender and then went to Houston. Then we came back like two or three days later and had been not quite fermenting it, cause that’s not gonna happen in three days, but it was just, yeah, it just been sitting there.

Yeah. Just chilling. And we tried it and we were both like, holy shit, like this is it. What did we, what did we do? You know, what was it as a carrot, Sandra? Oh, cause y’all, didn’t

[00:09:07] Jess: quite know what you had done.

[00:09:11] Erin Link of Yellowbird: and he made way too much. It was in like a gallon jar and I just kept eating. I was like, this one’s really good.

What did you do here? And he’s like, I don’t know,

[00:09:21] George Milton of Yellowbird: one, I didn’t write down,

[00:09:23] Erin Link of Yellowbird: but carrots, carrots, where the carrots were the.

[00:09:26] Jess: Which is one of the first ingredients on several of y’all’s hot sauce.

[00:09:29] George Milton of Yellowbird: Well, carrots carrots is like our number one ingredient that we use in our company. Like company-wide, that was kind of.

I mean, it’s not a secret ingredient. It’s right there on the label, but they have natural. Do we need to delete this? Delete this part. Yeah, we’ll start now. Can I just introduce, Hey, Hey, this is Mason and welcome to the Sioux green life, but y’all

[00:09:50] Mason: didn’t launch with this

[00:09:51] George Milton of Yellowbird: ratchet, right? We launched with the habanero.

That was the one I’m talking about. So like we, we pulled apart the serratus. And we got we bastardized so many things about that original recipe that it wasn’t really Serrata anymore. That was the habanero condiment. So it was having arrows and carrots and Tangerine. Garlic onions like that was secret

[00:10:12] Mason: ingredients, secret

[00:10:13] George Milton of Yellowbird: ingredients, always the secret ingredients, the carrot.

That’s it.

[00:10:17] Mason: Well, try to give you an out. It could be an off bottle thing. You don’t even scare it. Suppressing agent? Nope. Okay.

[00:10:24] Erin Link of Yellowbird: And that’s carrot carrots, carrots, and garlic and onions. Peppers and all the real

[00:10:30] George Milton of Yellowbird: steps is why we’re on your podcast. Yeah.

[00:10:32] Jess: Well, that’s why we love y’all’s products. I mean, it’s like you’re eating vegetables with your hot SLAs or with your condiment is most other hot sauce companies.

It seems it’s just spices and bandwagon occur. Those are like the two spices and all hot sauces. So you always have such different and more complex flavor profile and has vegetables

[00:10:50] Erin Link of Yellowbird: in it. Yeah. Yeah. So we’re going for wild flavor.

[00:10:55] Mason: When I first, when I finished my first sharp habanero, I wanted to somehow put it I don’t know, get a taxidermist to put it back up where I can put it on the wall y’all are going to do we need trophy cases so we can say we have tried.

All the varieties, like the frat guys do it with beer

[00:11:15] George Milton of Yellowbird: bottles on the wall. It never needs

[00:11:17] Mason: to be higher class than that. You never

[00:11:20] George Milton of Yellowbird: even went to a party. You I’ve never even heard of it. Where

[00:11:24] Mason: are you from again? A little bit,

but in Alabama

[00:11:30] George Milton of Yellowbird: they’re different. Yeah. They’re way

[00:11:31] Erin Link of Yellowbird: different. So you want me to make you a trophy? A Yellowbird habanero trophy. Okay.

[00:11:37] Mason: I’m on it. I think everyone should, should get one on there, which, you know, I would have to start counting from now, but I don’t know maybe your 50th bottle. Cause that’d be pretty.

That’s significant.

[00:11:47] Erin Link of Yellowbird: Yeah.

[00:11:49] George Milton of Yellowbird: Uh, we can do that on our website. Just a reminder, we send it in the mail. Like just a reminder. We’re tracking your online activity.

[00:11:57] Jess: I guess. You’d have to get it from the same place over and over again. You guys got. I guess through you because you can buy the product. I mean,

[00:12:05] Mason: you can ship stuff.

[00:12:06] George Milton of Yellowbird: Let’s take your word for it. Yeah. Just tell us. You’ve had 50 bottles dip one in gold and send it to

[00:12:14] Erin Link of Yellowbird: gold sauce. That’s the next one?

[00:12:17] Mason: As anyone quantified, how much condiments, per person, how many pounds of condiments are eaten?

[00:12:26] Erin Link of Yellowbird: That’s a great question. I don’t know that, but I did last year, I had this, this fun project that I was working on was I wanted to capture all of the carrots that were, uh, pounds of carrots that we use in.

Pounds of habanero is pounds of every bit of protein produced that we use in a year and just, you know, let the world know because that’s really fun and interesting to know how much you’re eating of this really great stuff and less of the, you know, the sugars and the bad stuff for you. So, um, yeah, maybe I’ll have to, I’ll have to share that information with you guys.

I don’t have it off the top of my head. That’d be fun project.

[00:13:00] Jess: We can include that in the show notes. Yeah. Circle back to all that, because I was really excited to hear what it is. So we’ll share, share that piece. Yeah.

[00:13:08] Mason: It’s always fun to give guests homework, you know, as a thank you for being on the street here for it.

And I remember you were calling me. Looking for organic ingredients or no, I called you and told you, you needed to make an organic one. I’m going to take credit for that. And y’all did end up making an organic one. Was that. You know, is it a supply chain issue was a customer feedback, like who prompted you?

[00:13:39] George Milton of Yellowbird: It was you.

Yeah. Uh, so the, everybody who likes our organic line write the thank you notes to Mason. Um,

[00:13:49] Mason: where do y’all source from Mosley?

[00:13:51] George Milton of Yellowbird: Well, we, so we source from, uh, we have a farm in California. Uh, we work with some small farms in Mexico. Uh, Costa Rica, Peru, Peru. Um, but mostly in, you know, mostly in the Americas, like we have sourced stuff from like overseas, overseas, before, but that you, if you run into quality issues, it’s way harder to kind of deal with.

That far, the farther away it gets. Yeah. So, but to answer your original question, like we launched the, we launched the company, like wanting it to be a hundred percent organic, but there were some problematic ingredients, peppers being one of them that hasn’t really been, uh, prioritize, uh, in general as a, as organic.

Like even if you go to whole foods, A lot of times the peppers they have, most of the times the peppers are not organic. Yeah.

[00:14:45] Mason: Um, almost all the time they peppers are now on the dirty dozen of the most polluted environmental working group. And they tested every year, they touched produce and they’ll take hundreds of samples from across the U S and then they’ll list the ones that have the most pesticides in them and peppers are now on the list.

And so we had to stop buying, even from whole foods. We don’t buy the peppers because the non-organic ones are going to be so.

[00:15:12] George Milton of Yellowbird: Yeah. I’ll, uh, I’ll sell you some peppers direct. Yeah. Yeah. They fall off the truck. We actually talked to whole foods.

[00:15:20] Mason: We’ve got to push out back to, well, several, we’ve got some chili McKean bushes one year.

We just, none of us had time. I mean, I should have. Major

[00:15:31] Erin Link of Yellowbird: thing of that would be real fun. They are

[00:15:34] Mason: small things, but they’re all really close together. So you really just, you’re just like going like yeah.

[00:15:39] Erin Link of Yellowbird: Picking them off. Those are spicy too. Those are in those. Got some good heat.

[00:15:43] Mason: We turned them into like the shake, the red pepper flake, and they’re delicious that way.

But the freeze this year took out, took out the whole Bush. And so now it’s grown back from a tiny little, oh, it came back. Yeah, it did come back. Huge rocks. And so I think the rocks protected some of the rootstock, but definitely killed off. Most of it.

[00:16:05] Jess: Have you guys had the opportunity to go to any

[00:16:07] George Milton of Yellowbird: of the farms?

Yeah. We’ve been to all the farms that they made commercials. Yeah. That’s, that’s, that’s kind of one of our, well that, that commercial you’re talking about, we shot it in the winter. So I’m, uh, I’m actually in front of. Like a field of lettuce. And we had like, every once in a while, some savvy person, I thought it would be funny, right?

Like, oh, Hey, there’s no pepper. We’ll shoot in front of lettuce. We’ll see who notices. And every once in a while, somebody will send us a message. Like, uh, that’s actually a, the sexually lettuce and kale and. Canceled for like you were canceled. You’re like, yeah, we know. Um, but yeah, we visited there.

Wouldn’t it be funny though, if I was, if I was like ran a hot sauce company, that was like all my recipes and I was like, what really is that? Holy crap. That’s what a

[00:16:55] Erin Link of Yellowbird: pepper

[00:16:57] George Milton of Yellowbird: weird. Uh, but yeah, we visited all our farms and we, we try to go, um, we try to go every year. Cause I think. Part of the, like part of the thing that we’ve, um, our, our kind of goal was to make a, a, a, a, like farmer’s market quality product, like something that you would go expect to pay like 20 or 25, 30 bucks for a bottle at a farmer’s market.

we started at farmer’s markets. part of our goal was like making farmers quality farmer’s market quality product that you could get in grocery stores, like across the country. so a big important part of like scaling that up and creating the organic line and, you know, getting the supply chain and all that sort of stuff was creating like actual relationships with farmers and with the folks that, that grow our stuff and that.

Do this without that. So

[00:17:53] Erin Link of Yellowbird: I think there’s also a big disconnect with farmers, not understanding, like, if you want to do something that big, it’s going to require like dedicated land for that one brand or that one company and that one crop. And a lot of them just didn’t quite understand that mentality of reserving that land just for this one thing.


[00:18:15] Mason: and how do you get year round? So I’ve just learned. This year, I had a friend visiting from, he lives. He has a farm outside of Seattle and he’s like, I tried to grow hot peppers, but they don’t get hot because it’s not hot here. Yeah.

[00:18:29] Erin Link of Yellowbird: Oh, the spiciness. Yeah. I mean, they, they do want a lot of that son that he, they liked the sun, but yeah.

It also can get really hot in Austin and it doesn’t like so much heat. Those peppers will just, they’ll just shrivel up and die and yeah, it’s

[00:18:46] Mason: okay. From year round in California, does it just happen? It’s more,

[00:18:50] George Milton of Yellowbird: we don’t grow them year round anywhere you can, you can grow year round, like, um, in the Yucatan they can grow mostly year round, especially if they have, um, hot houses and things like that.

Um, but they don’t get like below the Frostline. Anywhere where you’re going to get frost. It’s hard to grow year round because they’ll die at the first frost. And you got to kind of start again. So like, even in, even in Austin, like this time of year, um, you know, winter, it’s not like we’re going to get a second spring.

Right. But we’re not going to get a lot of frost, but like you just get one frost and you got to start all over again. So like, and that happens, um, with the farm that we work with in California. Um, it happens with the farm that we work with and in Texas, So we don’t grow year round almost anywhere. So we will have like a season where we bring in all of the peppers.

This is what, this is. Same thing that like, this is kind of a page from the who we following book is that they’re they’re crop of peppers. They would grow it all in California, like a mile from there. And they would harvest it and process it all in the span of like three or four weeks. Wow. For like the whole year.

And that’s essentially, that’s essentially what we do more or less. Gotcha. Yeah.

[00:20:11] Mason: So you bring in workers to, is it the same workers every year that come

[00:20:17] George Milton of Yellowbird: in and make sense? Yeah. And it’s a, it’s a, we make sauce all the time. So we, we we’d like make the, we, we essentially are making. A pepper mash when we, when we harvest it.

Gotcha. So the F the, the harvest, like the farm labor is really heavy, just like at any farm. It’s really heavy during planting and really heavy during picking during harvesting. But our labor is fairly consistent throughout the year because we are producing like the finished, we were producing the finished product all the time, all the time.

That’s how.

[00:20:57] Mason: Cool. Let’s a lot of fun to also the brand is really fun. And I think it’s one of the coolest brands I’ve come across because it’s around an actual bird. You want to tell the story of the yellow bird real quick?

[00:21:10] George Milton of Yellowbird: Well, Erin is the brand expert. I don’t take any credit for the brand.

[00:21:19] Erin Link of Yellowbird: story than burn you, you came up with the name. So I feel like you should tell

[00:21:23] George Milton of Yellowbird: it. Okay. Well then I just made it look cool. And you made it look real cool. When we were free, we were first kind of like taking it to the little farmer’s markets and stuff around in Austin, like 2012. Um, I think it was when we came up with the name, but we were like, okay, well we want to put, because Erin’s background is in design, really?

Like let’s do this as a project together. Um, so we wanted to put a label on it and create, you know, create a brand. Our goal then was just to have like a little thing we could take to the farmer’s market and local restaurants

[00:21:54] Erin Link of Yellowbird: and also, you know, make sure the ingredients were on it so that people knew what they were eating.


[00:21:59] Mason: But it came first, the

[00:21:59] George Milton of Yellowbird: bottle or the bird, the. Bird. I think it took us a while to find that bottle, like it used to be, you know, there’s like food service, like plastic, like the catch-up kind of squeeze bottle that you can just get it like a smart that’s what we made it in for awhile. And then you went glass with glass for a little while and people rebelled the same people who said we had to go through.

Rebelled against us

[00:22:23] Erin Link of Yellowbird: really? It’s almost like people don’t know what they want.

[00:22:27] Mason: And that was because of the

[00:22:28] George Milton of Yellowbird: squeezy ability, squeeze ability. Yeah. People love the squeeze

[00:22:31] Jess: ability because it was mainly for food service

[00:22:33] George Milton of Yellowbird: at the time. It was primarily for food service. Yeah. Like when we started, we were, we were like, let’s just be, let’s just be in food service.

We don’t know anything about retail. So, um, But we got to read it anyway, but the bird, the name of the bird. So at one point we were just, we were just selling it in those squeeze bottles, um, where we weren’t selling it. We were just giving it away. Cause it wasn’t anything at that. But

[00:22:58] Erin Link of Yellowbird: no, that’s when you were taking it to pizza and you were trying to sell your albums, but nobody wanted your albums.

They all wanted the hot sauce.

[00:23:06] George Milton of Yellowbird: Yeah, that’s true. That’s true. Sweet. Hey look, I’m a, I’m an honest man. I can be, it’d be real with myself, right. But we, we said like, Hey, it’s hot sauce. What do we want it to be? Like, what do we want it to represent? And I, I came up with the yellow bird. I was like, what? We, we threw out some names.

I was like yellow bird. I think.  Aaron was like, well, why? I was like, I dunno, cause like it’s cute, it’s approachable. It’s not all like flames and skulls and like, you know, Dragon’s breath or whatever. she’s like, oh, there’s not a story. I’m not going to make a, I’m not going to create a brand for you.

If there’s no story, there’s no reason for that. And so. It turns out I learned later. No. Yeah. Well, so, so, so birds, birds are immune to capsaicin, like all birds. Yeah. All of them. Um, and so like they have birds have like a third of the amount of taste buds or something of mammals. So like it’s a symbiotic relationship because birds can like eat peppers and then poop out the seeds and peppers, you know, propagated foreign, why and all that sort of.

Um, and there became peppers are also called, known as bird peppers because birds can eat them whole. Um, but there was a, there was a little like, uh, like I said, once I learned that fact, I was like really digging into it and I. I found this little bird, you know, from Thailand that was like, that would eat the little bird peppers.

And it was this little yellow bird. And I was like, Aaron, look, Aaron, look at this shit. You’re not going to believe this shit.

[00:24:42] Jess: That’s an amazing story. I can’t believe how that

[00:24:45] Erin Link of Yellowbird: worked out for you. I was equally as surprised. I was like, no, can’t

[00:24:51] Jess: right now.

[00:24:54] George Milton of Yellowbird: She couldn’t do it though. This is before the internet.

So she said she just had to trust

[00:25:01] Erin Link of Yellowbird: me. Yeah. And that’s how the story came about. That that is that’s where the elephant came from.

[00:25:09] Jess: And so I want to ask a question back to the packaging. So it was a bigger plastic one at first. And. The food service or the restaurants requested it to be glass. Was that for a particular reason?

Like for sustainability or like, why did they want glass?

[00:25:23] George Milton of Yellowbird: So it was, it was a couple of things, like when we were trying to figure out, like scaling it up, it’s like filling into glasses a lot easier. Um, For one thing, cause you just mix it up hot and you put it in glass hot and then you just forget about it right there.

There are a lot of extra steps if you want to use plastic. So when we were trying to, we, we are produce all of our own stuff now, but like in like 20 14, 20 15, when we started selling to grocery stores, we were trying to use co-packers and Copa the co-packers were users like, oh, let’s just fill it hot into a glass bottle.

And we were like, well, this is the only way that we’re ever going to like scale it, I guess. we also had, you know, like we were selling to whole foods and we had people asking the question about, about glass and about like, Hey, isn’t glass better than plastic. in some ways it is, but like only if you reuse it right.

If you throw it away, they all kind of suck. But, um, But that that’s when we made the switch and in 2014 we were like, okay, glass bottle, glass bottle. Yellowbird I guess. And

[00:26:35] Mason: then yet some ketchup sploosh is, I don’t know what you call it. Like if you go too hard and then all of a sudden you, instead of it being a little bit sweeter with ketchup, you just can’t deal with.

[00:26:45] George Milton of Yellowbird: Yeah, yeah. No, it was Lucius is the technical term as well. Yeah. So that’s in the condiment and manual. We learned that like day one. Uh, yeah, no, I mean the big, the biggest thing was that like the, like the squeeze bottle was like one of the things that people attached with our brand. And so, like, we, we talk about, uh, glass and sustainable packaging and like, we use a hundred percent recycled plastic, which is a step in the right direction, but, but right.

Still plastic and. Probably people still throw it away. Right? Like even if people are throwing it in a recycling bin, it’s probably ending up in the trash somewhere and that’s no good. So we talk about glass, you know, that, that comes up. We were talking about it yesterday. Like it comes up like comes up

[00:27:37] Erin Link of Yellowbird: all the time.

It does come up all the time. And that’s one of the things that oftentimes will keep me awake at night is just like, yeah, we’re putting a lot of plastic out there, but you

[00:27:45] George Milton of Yellowbird: know, People were like drop P our customers were dropping like flies. The same. Like there, there was a, there was a story that I heard of a whole foods.

I think it was in Seattle or Portland up in, up in the Northwest where like the customers of the whole foods had been like requesting not to. I have like packaging in the store. They wanted it to be like a bulk kind of deal. And so they like

[00:28:11] Mason: lots of sorts of tried that and they closed,

[00:28:13] George Milton of Yellowbird: they closed the store down and like, they had so many customer requests that they closed the store down.

They reopened as this bulk, you know, this is the, our trial for this thing. We know it’s going to do. We know it’s going to do well here because like 98 customers, so many people, and those customers were like, oh, this is a pain in the ass and started shopping. So you’re shopping. It failed immediately.

Right? That same thing was happening to us. Like the same people who said, we got to have a little sustainable packaging, we got to have it. We’re like, yeah, the squeeze bottle was what we really wanted. And so

[00:28:47] Mason: it’s a spectrum and, you know, part of the most degreed lives that we’re not judgmental about anything, but also.

You know what the, like the worst case you can get as a single use plastic and your plastic squeeze bottle sits in people’s fridges or their pantry for months and months and months. And so that, to me, that’s one of the most viable use cases for plastic. You can come up with where you do need to be able to accurately dispense the condiment.

And it’s the six round for a really long time. Uh, but yes, in general, plastic is destroying the ocean and everything. But I would imagine that if you pull out a million, tons of plastic waste from the ocean, there’s 0.1 bottle of yellow bird in there.

[00:29:32] George Milton of Yellowbird: Well, I mean, you don’t like to be fair. You don’t have to give us a pass.

Like we, like, we all kind of agree that like plastic is bad and there are a lot of ways. I think it’s kind of the same way that we’re like, okay, well, our reliance. Gasoline is bad. Right. But like, if you just w like the world doesn’t know how to exist, if you just shut it all off. Right. You know? So like the most sustainable, I think that this is the founder of Patagonia who said like the most sustainable businesses to not to have a business.

[00:30:03] Erin Link of Yellowbird: Right.

[00:30:04] George Milton of Yellowbird: So, like there’s no, I just don’t think that it’s helpful for anybody to say that. Oh, this visa businesses sustainable. Well, it’s probably, you know, buying elaborate is it’s more sustainable than a lot of the alternatives because we’re supporting a certain type of farming, you know, because we’re, you know, working actively working on reducing our carbon footprint.

We’re actually like trying to do that. using recycled plastic. using 100% recycled corrugate and our packaging not everybody’s doing it. It’s a little more expensive to do, but the. The, the ultimate solution is, is something far more intense than just like, oh, well recycle. Let’s put the little recycle arrows and now we’re all good.

Yeah. So

[00:30:49] Jess: some brands do that and that’s their whole recycling marketing.

[00:30:53] George Milton of Yellowbird: Yeah. We suggest to our customers that maybe they should recycle our packaging. We’re green. Exactly. Green.

[00:31:01] Jess: Well, that’s awesome to hear how much thought has been put into it, and the fact that you guys have teetered from different packaging based on what, you know, the needs were at the time.

And to hear that it’s recycled plastic and recycled corrugate too. So that’s all really awesome.

[00:31:15] George Milton of Yellowbird: Yeah. The

[00:31:16] Mason: right direction.

[00:31:18] Jess: Um, so some other really cool things that you guys have done. I feel like y’all had a lot of really cool PR hits in the last year or so, or just cool opportunities that Yellowbird has been featured in.

[00:31:29] Mason: Several years. Billions like

[00:31:33] Erin Link of Yellowbird: Koppelman. Yeah. Yeah. Anyway,

[00:31:37] Jess: well that was one of them, so yeah, it’s billions for sure. Um, but then also there’s a YouTube series called hot ones that Mila Kunis was on recently and she got to taste, I guess it was all on a chicken wing. Right. They asked celebrities questions while they’re eating hot wings with different flavors.

Get that opportunity or like, what has it done for the brand or did you guys get to interact with her?

[00:31:59] George Milton of Yellowbird: Yeah, they actually Mila called us, uh, I just called her Mila now. It was like, I was like Ms. Kunis. She was like, no, no, but that opportunity kind of came about over like years,

[00:32:16] Erin Link of Yellowbird: years. Yeah. Hey, everybody was for, for several years.

Everyone’s like, you guys should be on hotlines. You guys should be on hot ones. And what they didn’t know was the whole time we like actively trying to figure out how we make this happen because they only have 10 sauces on each season. Right. So, um, and not only that, but they have to choose from. There’s a lot of hot sauce of small makers out there for who they want to put on that show.

So anyway, you can,

[00:32:46] George Milton of Yellowbird: well, we ended up, we ended up making a, uh, uh, we didn’t making a sauce just for the show. So the sauce that they have on the show is like not, not sold anywhere else. Um, oh, wow. That seems

[00:32:58] Mason: like bad marketing. It’s terrible.

[00:33:01] George Milton of Yellowbird: We don’t know. I don’t know anything about marketing. Uh,

[00:33:06] Jess: well, I didn’t realize that I didn’t realize it was its own product.

So did you make that on its own? And then you were submitting it to the producers time after time where you guys were like, choose our brand, we will create something crazy hot for you.

[00:33:19] George Milton of Yellowbird: Yes. So like a question. Oh, okay. All right. Yeah. I’ll stick with my answer. Um, we, we had connected, we connected with them like a couple of years ago.

[00:33:34] Erin Link of Yellowbird: The first time I went to. Uh, the New York hot sauce expo, I think was when I met the people.

[00:33:41] George Milton of Yellowbird: Yeah. We’re not supposed to say

[00:33:43] Erin Link of Yellowbird: who they are because they don’t want to remain nameless.

[00:33:46] George Milton of Yellowbird: They want people blowing them up with

[00:33:48] Erin Link of Yellowbird: hot sauces, but yeah. Um, but you know, cut to several years later and them casually asking, Hey, how did we, you know, get you on hot ones.

Um, Eventually. I was like, okay, let’s make this happen. so I said, George, can you make something for HoloLens? I said, make it hot because it’s hot ones. Why not? he made this really amazing sauce, which we now have on our website called the hitchhiker. It’s really good. Also at REI. Um, it was too hot for them.

We do, we do sell that. He did a next step. That one. Cause it was too. Oh really? Wow. Right. So we were supposed to live somewhere in the, between one and four section out of 10 and that one kind of fell at a seven. So I said, I want something new and. Fast because we need you to be on this season. So George was like, okay.

Oh my gosh, what am I going to do? And then he came up with bliss and vinegar, which is amazing. Coconut strawberries, Serrano’s and vinegar. It’s just, it’s my favorite wing sauce. But that one kind of fell on two in the lineup of 10 and they said, cool, we’ll take it. And within a matter of what, a couple of weeks, they needed a full order of how much, a bunch, like, like a lot.

And so at that point we didn’t have the bottles. We didn’t have the calves, we didn’t have the labels, we didn’t have anything. Wow. Or the ingredients, we were just kind of trying to figure out what the recipe was. And so we had to rush to get it all figured out.

[00:35:21] George Milton of Yellowbird: Yeah. That thing kind of, it took kind of years to come together and we fed about, well, we fed a bunch of cool.

Uh, PR mentions, I guess over the years, like our first in 2013, we had a non brother-in-law. We had a Thrillist

[00:35:33] Erin Link of Yellowbird: article

[00:35:34] George Milton of Yellowbird: first. So some there was a journalist from Austin tangent, but he wrote an article that we like, we didn’t know about it until it came

[00:35:44] Erin Link of Yellowbird: out, but he wrote, we didn’t know because I was doing a demo at Weeksville.

Oh, I love yellow bird. I’m going to write an article about you guys. And I was like, cool. Please do it. And then like, it was the Thrillist,


[00:35:56] George Milton of Yellowbird: was like a, it was like a national article. It was like, it was something like yellow bird will, yellow bird replaced.

and we’re like, uh, we’re like, I met like making hot sauce and like a five gallon pot. You know what I mean? Like I’m like, I don’t know.

[00:36:15] Mason: Never had to answer

[00:36:16] George Milton of Yellowbird: that

[00:36:16] Erin Link of Yellowbird: question logistically, not anytime soon. I guess that was super hilarious because once that article hit and yeah, George was actually making these tiny batches, I think you were maxing out at like 12 cases a week, which was

[00:36:30] George Milton of Yellowbird: really bad cases at one point

[00:36:32] Erin Link of Yellowbird: on point.

That was your, that was your high point. Yeah. And once that article hit. Everyone that saw it thought that we were this massive brand and company and it was just me and George. And it was just like, is a big company too. They did

[00:36:46] George Milton of Yellowbird: immediately like, well, people would like, their order would be like, you know, they didn’t get a ship notice or something.

And they would be like, Hey, where is this order? And we’re like, Hey, oh, I mean, sorry, but

[00:36:57] Erin Link of Yellowbird: so two man show right now. Yeah. Yeah. That’s fun. Wild ride.

[00:37:01] Jess: So how many employees do you guys have?

[00:37:04] George Milton of Yellowbird: Uh, 31 31. Yeah. Wow. And that’s a, that that’s production and like mostly the marketing and production.

[00:37:15] Jess: So can you share with our listeners everywhere they can find yellow bird?

I know that there’s a lot of online retailers. They can find it on. Um, and so those are. Amazon Yellowbird foods.com.

[00:37:31] Mason: it should always be the first choice.

[00:37:33] Erin Link of Yellowbird: Yeah. Sorry, let me,

[00:37:34] Jess: yeah, let me take that back.

[00:37:38] George Milton of Yellowbird: Uh, the main places you can find yellow bird. Sorry. Oh, the bird feeds with two SS and Yellowbird foods with three Z’s.

[00:37:48] Erin Link of Yellowbird: I didn’t buy that domain,

[00:37:50] George Milton of Yellowbird: somebody buying it now. Um, but we do have, we do have like a store locator on our website. Um, but we’re available at most major retailers across the U S so

[00:38:01] Jess: like whole foods and Kroger’s or food. Uh,

[00:38:04] George Milton of Yellowbird: so Kroger, we’re not in all of them yet. Albertsons Safeway. Um, HEB, if you’re listening here in Texas Ralphs, Vons, um, natural grocers sprouts and.

There’s a bunch of them. Yeah. So like all of them, wherever you, wherever you buy, find foods,

[00:38:25] Jess: um, something I saw today that y’all are also in Nordstrom, which seems like an interesting, uh, retailer to carry hot sauce. How, how did that come about? And is that like limited time? I think I saw it was like a Christmas package,

[00:38:37] George Milton of Yellowbird: maybe like.

Uh, or during Christmas, and then we do some of the Nordstrom pop-ups as well. They’ll do the little pot, little grocery Poppins.

[00:38:50] Erin Link of Yellowbird: Yeah. They’re, they’re pretty good at curating that section for the holidays of finer foods, sized guests or fun. It’s really a lot of fun, colorful stuff, really. Um, they’re just so good at design that they, they, uh, whoever is curating, it is doing a really good.

Yeah, that’s interesting. It has yellow bird has yellow bird in it.

[00:39:11] George Milton of Yellowbird: We’ve been really lucky to be a part of like a bunch of those cool things though. Cause I think we got to kind of be on the, on the front of the, you know, hot sauces, like reinventing hot sauce kind of way. Pioneers is what we call that we’re.

So we’re, we’re pioneers, you know, I don’t want to toot my own horn, but, uh, but like we, we did kind of get to be on that, on the front of that. Like, Hey, we’re kind of like, like reinventing there. There’s a number we’re not the only brand of hot sauce. It’s like, Hey, let’s rethink this category. Um, but we got to be in on that first wave.

So we’ve gotten to be a part of, a lot of cool things I think is a part of that

[00:39:53] Mason: Angela fun and funny brand and beautiful. And yeah,

[00:40:00] Erin Link of Yellowbird: we try

[00:40:04] Mason: and you’ll handle both parties.

[00:40:06] George Milton of Yellowbird: Yeah. Well, yeah, that’s

[00:40:07] Jess: accurate too.

[00:40:09] Mason: Don’t want to make you spit out your wine on our white couch

[00:40:12] George Milton of Yellowbird: over here. Let’s talk about, let’s talk about our boat parties.

[00:40:16] Mason: We didn’t have any this year.

[00:40:21] George Milton of Yellowbird: Yeah. I mean, I’m glad to, I’m glad to hear that because if I heard that you did and we hadn’t heard about them at all, like

[00:40:27] Mason: yeah. We’re getting in bites here and there y’all was just too busy, making sure.

[00:40:32] George Milton of Yellowbird: Yeah. Yeah. That’s what it was.

[00:40:36] Mason: And that’s about the perfect, uh, timing for this. Any other thoughts or anything we missed as we were talking about hot sauce?

Oh yeah. The collector’s items. Yeah. Does anyone does any, how do you think. I bought, I bought them and then I eat them and it’s like, I didn’t collect them because,

[00:40:58] Erin Link of Yellowbird: well, yes, you’re, you’re the different audience that, so there is a collectors audience of hot sauces that you can ask them to open their pantry and it will just be covered.

All types of hot sauce and it’s kind of similar to collecting like really cool

[00:41:14] George Milton of Yellowbird: whiskeys.

[00:41:17] Mason: Oh, that’s the secret. Okay. I’m not a collector.

[00:41:21] George Milton of Yellowbird: Okay. Secret. The secret is Yellowbird foods, so I can’t buy two of everything. Yeah. There you go. Keep winding your trophy case. Okay.

[00:41:28] Mason: So legit. And they keep on liking their food

[00:41:30] Erin Link of Yellowbird: pantry wherever.

I mean, if you get into the world of hot sauce, finance, Yeah, like there’s one guy, Vic, Linco what’s up. Sorry. I think he has the world’s largest hot sauce collection and it’s just lining his entire living room just with a lot of

[00:41:49] George Milton of Yellowbird: people, like build their own like kid like hot sauce, cases and stuff.

[00:41:52] Erin Link of Yellowbird: Oh, I thought you were gonna say caves.

Hot sauce. Kate’s.

[00:41:55] Mason: I was thinking Cape Stephen thinking they must get laid a lot.

[00:42:00] George Milton of Yellowbird: Hot sauce is historically an industry where people get laid a lot. Let’s call it theory, sort of call it there.

[00:42:11] Mason: Way more than dueling piano bars. Huh?

[00:42:14] George Milton of Yellowbird: I don’t really think about that.

[00:42:16] Mason: All right. Well that was another mostly Greenlight podcast. Thanks for listening.

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