The future for Shildon-based chilli sauce producer, Balefire, is red-hot following a £1,000 grant from Open North Foundation (ONF).

Twins, Peter and James Batten and Peter’s wife, Laura, operate the business from a 1,000 sq ft unit at Furnace Industrial Estate, where they produce chilli sauce based on fermented craft beer, sold online, at farmer’s markets and at selected stockists across the UK.

Peter, who was a chef for 15 years and also worked in the brewing sector, used this combined experience to produce Balefire chilli sauce, with plans to expand the product range with the imminent launch of a probiotic fermented vinegar utilising craft beer.

The £1,000 grant from ONF will go towards the purchase of additional fermentation equipment, with the awards committee highly impressed with the experience of the management team, their vision for the business and the potential to rapidly expand the product range.

ONF, was established in July 2020 and is a direct response from the business community in the North East to provide financial and in-kind support to small businesses in the region directly hit by the pandemic. More recently, it has expanded its remit to support firms impacted by influences out of their control, such as the energy crisis and price inflation.

ONF relies on the generosity of companies and organisations to provide donations and has a board of directors, ambassadors and supporters, all of whom provide their services free of charge. While grant awards have featured strongly to date, it will look to increasingly provide support by way of access to top quality retraining and business advice.

Peter, said: “The hot sauce market is very competitive but we believe we stand out as we ferment the chillies in barrels for over a month and we also match the chillies with certain types of craft beers to create subtle changes of flavour.

“Despite what has been a torrid time for all businesses due to Covid, energy costs and inflation, we remain very optimistic for the future. In 2021 we sold 200 units per month, we are currently reaching 1,200 per month and, in the run-up to Christmas, this should reach 2,000 per month.

“Our thanks to ONF for the superb financial donation and for having confidence in our venture. The awards process was very thorough and, in addition to the grant, we found the engagement with experienced businesspeople to be extraordinarily good for us as they asked some very deep and probing questions and gave advice that we will continue to refer to as we move forward.”

Paul Shields, Director, Open North Foundation, said: “Our congratulations to Balefire on the award of the grant. Small and micro businesses are an essential part of the North East ecosystem. They employ thousands of people and, in many cases, provide very specialist products and services that feed into various industry supply chains. In the early stages of their development, they can also be vulnerable, as has proven for so many during Covid and, more recently, the energy crisis and the cost of living.

“It is not lost on the Directors, ambassadors and donors linked to the ONF, that many of them, at one stage, either worked for or started a small business and they know both the challenges and opportunities that today’s fledgling firms face. Having undertaken a robust examination of Balefire’s grant application and spoken to the management team, we were more than satisfied that this was a business with a bright future.”