Most retail businesses launch their product prior to establishing a name for themselves on social media accounts like Instagram or Facebook, but not Costa Mesa-based Truff, which got the idea for its popular truffle-infused hot sauce from its online brand, @sauce.
The duo behind @sauce, Nick Ajluni and Nick Guillen, met at California State University, Fullerton and decided to create a social media account that focused on content that “resonated with pop culture foodies.”
They later decided to take it a step further and get into the food industry themselves.
Keeping with the luxe style of the @sauce page, Ajluni and Guillen started searching for ingredients to create a top shelf, premium hot sauce for both their followers and the culinary world.
Truff’s first product, a hot sauce that combined black truffles and red chili peppers, launched in 2017. The company, which also operates under the Sauce Ventures LLC name, used @sauce to promote the product.
“We were looking to create a new category within the hot sauce market,” Guillen and Ajluni told the Business Journal.
In the two years after its launch, Truff is reported to have sold over 10 million bottles, and the company reached a $25 million valuation in 2019, according to Forbes.
A bottle of the hot sauce runs $15 to $18 on Amazon and the Truff website, respectively.
A more recent valuation for the company hasn’t been disclosed, though officials said that Truff’s sales grew by 400% during the pandemic.
The company fulfilled hot sauce orders from their garage before moving into a warehouse in Huntington Beach. After operating out of several warehouses, the company recently moved to an office. Its current base at Costa Mesa’s Canvas business complex is less than a mile away from South Coast Plaza on Bristol Street. Truff counts 35 employees.
After the initial success of the truffle-infused hot sauce, Truff didn’t intend to release additional products, until the founders noticed expansion opportunities through social media.
The duo aimed to reach more consumers outside the “foodie cult” by putting their spin on pantry staples, creating items like the black truffle pomodoro and arrabbiata pasta sauces, truffle-infused olive oil and spicy mayonnaise.
The original hot sauce remains its top-selling item, or “hero SKU,” according to Guillen and Ajluni.
After gaining recognition online—primarily through Instagram and Amazon—the company eventually entered select specialty boutiques in 2018.
Later that year, Truff partnered with Wegmans on the East Coast, and a year later, the company’s products were tested in Whole Foods.
Truff is now in 15,000 doors in the U.S., most recently opening in Kroger and Publix. It’s also sold in Sprouts and Target.
The firm has an international presence and sees its products sold in the U.K., Australia, Kuwait and South Korea. The hot sauce’s first international retailer was a Smets in Luxembourg and a Sole Box in Germany.
Taco Bell Collab
When it comes to food and restaurant collaborations, Truff aims to partner with nostalgic brands—the products one would find “if you open up any refrigerator,” the founders said.
Truff’s first collaboration was with Bagel Bites in 2021.
The hot sauce has since teamed up with Hidden Valley, Noodles & Company, and most recently, OC’s largest restaurant chain, Taco Bell.
Following a test run at an Irvine Taco Bell restaurant last year, the two companies brought back a revamped version of the taco chain’s nacho fries in a new menu item, Truff Nacho Fries, during the fall.
More pairings are on the menu, with Ajluni and Guillen hinting of “cool moments” to come in the next few years.
“We would rather do nothing for five years and find the right one than do a bunch at once,” the co-founders said.