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Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

BusinessAugust 15, 2022

The world wasn’t ready for Simon Gault’s sugar-free tomato sauce

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

It was made in New Zealand and sweetened by seven different vegetables – but the celebrity chef’s sauce wasn’t sweet enough for customers. 

The first warning sign came at Farro. I couldn’t find it on the shelf where it normally lives, but there was one slightly damaged bottle nestled in among the meat. “Can I have that?” I asked the butcher. “Sure,” he replied, handing me the store’s last bottle of Simon Gault’s sugar-free tomato sauce. I wiped the meat juice off it and headed to the counter.

I’ve been buying Gault’s sauce for years. It always felt like I was getting one over on my kids – it’s sweetened by vegetables, seven of them to be precise, but it tastes exactly like the other stuff. For sugar-conscious parents, it’s a minor miracle.

But it seemed to be disappearing. The next time I visited Farro, it was gone. A grocer told me to try one of the other brands. I shook my head and went online. The website for the celebrity chef, known for pushing health-conscious messages on shows like Why Are We Fat?, offers plenty of stocks and rubs branded with his name and face.

I found the sauce I’d been looking for right at the bottom of the page. That’s when I received the bad news: “LAST BATCH”, it said in all-caps. Gault’s sauce has been discontinued. These were the final bottles. “We unfortunately were not meeting the sales hurdle rates to keep this product in market,” read a terribly sad note. 

Simon Gault
The bad news…

I quickly put four bottles in my cart, paid for them, then messaged Gault to find out what had happened. A few days later, I had him on the phone. “It’s pretty simple, really,” Gault told me. “It just takes such a long time for it to sell. The cost of purchasing another run of bottles is just not feasible. We don’t have the money.”

This was not an easy decision. Gault had poured time and money into his recipe. It took three years to work out which exact combination of vegetables perfectly mimicked the taste and flavour of sugar. “Ketchup has a lot of sugar in it, almost half,” he says. “It was a case of … could I make one that didn’t and get it to market and see if we could make a difference to people’s health?”

He did it, but it cost a lot of money. “It’s probably cost us a couple of hundred grand,” Gault admits. He hasn’t made any of it back. “The thing is, you can’t just have a pet project that loses money all the time,” he says. “We haven’t made a cent out of it.”

He still won’t reveal his recipe, and the exact ingredients aren’t on the bottle. But he admits carrots “are the big one”. Thankfully, celery, the worst vegetable, isn’t part of it.

Gault’s sauce tasted great, it was healthier than all the competitors, but people just weren’t buying enough of it. “If you put it in the supermarket, you’ve got to sell seven a week,” says Gault. “We weren’t doing that. We were booted out of New World.”

Gault puts it down to price. “Vegetables cost more than sugar does,” he says. “We can’t get the price down any further. You can buy other ketchup for half the price when it’s on special … Not enough people are interested in their health to pay the extra.”

Pulling the plug wasn’t easy. “I’ve thought of everything to try and keep it going but I just can’t do it,” Gault says. His sauce is gone from Farro, Countdown and New World. There are 84 bottles left on his website at the discounted rate of $7.49. They expire in November. Once they’re gone, that’s it – the end of Gault’s sugar-free tomato sauce dream.

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