Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

KaiSeptember 8, 2023

Is this the best tomato sauce in New Zealand?

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Alex Casey delves into the surprising success of the novelty special edition Tuimato sauce – and learns a shocking truth about the ‘Tui girls’.

On paper, Tuimato has absolutely no right to be my tomato sauce of choice. Launched in 2008 as part of Tui Beer’s ever-expanding merchandise range (which also included key rings, towels and the best-selling “Yeah Right” books), it was pitched as a new take on the “Kiwi bloke’s quintessential condiment.” To this day, the label boasts the blokey, boozy tagline “Getting on the sauce since 1889” and purports to still be made by the “the girls” at the Tui brewery. 

But even as a non-bloke, non-drinker and non-sauce-making girl, I have loved Tuimato sauce for over a decade. It has the chunky consistency of a homemade sauce, the kind you might buy in a jar from an old lady at a fair (a retired Tui girl, one can only assume). Tuimato is sweet but not too sweet, with a good amount of tang and a touch of smokiness. The flecks of garlic and onion also make it seem like a normal food and not a product best used to clean taps

Why do we never hear about Tuimato? Perhaps because Watties takes up 98% of sauce discourse with “remember when coffee was black or white, instead of latte or mocha at some trendy site” alone, while the other 2% is saved for Chris Hipkins’ sausage roll chat. You hear murmurs from foodies about Heinz, but I have never heard another living soul utter the word “Tuimato” outside of me, pitching this story repeatedly in The Spinoff’s editorial meeting.

A callout for beloved Tuimato memories also got a lukewarm reception. “I think I got it in a gift basket once”, one friend reflected. “I had it when I was flatting with the boys and the boys were like ‘hell yeah, tomato but lads’”, offered another. Many colleagues associated Tuimato with their parents – Boil Up editor Charlotte Muru-Lanning recently discovered that hers had not one but two bottles of Tuimato in their pantry and an open bottle in their fridge. 

“We love it,” her Mum explained. “No other tomato sauce compares!”

As for the recipe itself, Tui lore states that it came from Mrs Wagstaff, wife of brewery founder Henry Wagstaff, aka the First Girl. There’s not a lot more out there on Mrs Wagstaff so I reached out to Tui HQ, but never heard back (the Tui girls probably had too much sauce on their gorgeous fingers to reply). As an award-winning journalist, it was my duty to uncover the truth, so I used my award-winning eyes to read this on the back of the bottle:

“Produced by the good people at Delmaine Fine Foods for the girls at Tui Brewery.” 

Tuimato being made at Delmaine. Not pictured: the Tui girls

The girls, the gorgeous girls, were simply middlemen! Middlegirls! I managed to get a hold of Micheal Bennett, marketing manager at Delmaine Fine Foods, who explained Delmaine had been approached in 2007 by Tui’s then-commercial manager, Nick Rogers, to come up with a new recipe incorporating Tui beer. “The product has always been, and is to this day, made with actual Tui beer from the brewery in Mangatainoka,” Bennett says. 

Although the alcohol content burns off during the cooking process, the novel idea of a sauce made with beer quickly caught on following its test market release in January, 2008. “While it was perhaps seen early on as a bit of a fad product, it soon became a favourite with many Kiwis because of the taste,” Bennett says. In the first year of production, demand was so great that Delmaine had to swap out the 350g glass bottle for a 580g squeezable bottle. 

The Tuimato glow up

In 2012, the Tui girls shattered the glass ceiling with a Tui barbecue sauce, called Bar-B-Tui, which remained on shelves until 2020 (there were also plans to make a spicy “Tuibasco” sauce, but that was thwarted by copyright issues). These days 400,000 units of Tuimato are sold every year, making it the third most popular sauce brand in New Zealand behind Watties and Heinz. 

Fifteen years since its creation, Tuimato mastermind Nick Rogers remains “immensely proud” of the success of the sauce. “It was a novelty when people first heard about it, but then they kept coming back because it’s just bloody good tomato sauce.” He no longer works for DB, and says that Tuimato is the only legacy that remains from his time in marketing for the brand. “It’s lasted longer than everything else,” he says. “I never thought it would actually stick around.”

Just like me, he’s heard from many people who still buy the sauce despite, not because of, the branding. “The amount of people who say ‘Oh, I don’t want that, it’s Tui’ and then have it and find out it tastes incredible is massive. It’s just a great sauce.” Now working with the White Swan, the Tui Brewery and the Monteith’s Brewery, Rogers says Tuimato is on the table at all his establishments. You’ll also find it, naturally, in his own fridge at home. 

“I have it every week” he says. “It always tastes just that little bit better than all the other sauces.” 

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