Carthage business produces dressings and sauces since 1948
by Paul Newton I email@example.com
Inside the nondescript building on the corner of Hazel and Fairview, the plant is busy with activity. One-gallon bottles of barbecue sauce are filled for a popular chain restaurant. Pallets of ranch, Italian and poppy seed dressing are moved by forklift readying for delivery. New recipes are being researched. The workers here help feed the Midwest.
For 71 years, customers have enjoyed Ott’s dressings and sauces created in southwest Missouri. What started as a homemade sauce served by a local restaurateur has transformed into a production facility consisting of a family of dressings and sauces as well as co-packing and private label items all made in Carthage.
In 1947, Walter and Ruby Ott had recently purchased Red’s Cafe along Route 66 where Walter served a ruby-red salad dressing much like the one his mother made.
Ott Food Products CEO Ryan Brunnert says that dressing — which today is the signature Original Famous Dressing — is the genesis of the company. “They called it red dressing and everyone loved it.”
So popular was the dressing along the Mother Road, that the Ott’s sold the cafe the following year to focus entirely on the dressing. As demand increased, they purchased land for a production facility, the same location where Ott Food Products is today. “Walter and Ruby ran it until 1979 basically making the original dressing, Italian and barbecue sauce,” says Ryan.
The business has had a handful of owners since the Ott’s passed the torch in 1979. Today it’s a family affair with an ownership team consisting of Ryan and his wife, Casey, along with his sister Stacey Larsen and her husband, Dustin.
Along the way the business has seen multiple expansions of the now 35,000-square-foot building. Today, the four owners and one dozen employees can market and produce approximately 22,000 pints or 2,800 1-gallon bottles of sauces per day.
“It’s pretty amazing what our team can produce here,” says Stacey.
Whenever a new recipe or flavor is developed, it will be made in smaller batches in the lab and Dustin will take the product out to be tested by groups in the market. Once finalized, it is converted for industrial production and the test product sits for six to eight months to make sure it’s shelf stable and ready for retail.
The retail side of Ott’s is the most front facing for supermarket shoppers. These are the products made under the Ott’s name. While they have approximately 30 sauces and dressings, the three most popular are the Famous and ranch dressings and Original Wing Sauce. The products are available at 2,000 stores and supermarkets in Missouri and surrounding states.
With the business’ roots in Jasper County dating back to Red’s Cafe, Ryan says they are right where they want to be. “Carthage is the crossroads of America,” he says. “We have great employees here, there’s no way we could have what we do without the workforce here. Being in a smaller town makes it a little easier when you need something.”
The second aspect to the business includes private labeling where a company will purchase an Ott’s product, place their label on it and use it as their own.
Co-packing — where a company or restaurant contracts with Ott’s to make their product for them — rounds out the business. “We sign a confidentiality agreement when they give us their recipe,” Ryan says. “We break it down and convert it to an industrial size, balancing the difference between the products we use and what’s available at stores. We do multiple taste testing with ourselves and the customer to make sure we get it right.”
The minimum batch Ott’s makes is 170 gallons. “The biggest thing when you’re taking a 16-ounce bottle and converting it to a 320-gallon batch is that you use the same ingredients and the same whipping. That can be very challenging.”
Making sure shoppers know Ott’s products are all made in Missouri is important, especially as they must compete on shelves against large, national brands. New Ott’s labels indicate it as a Missouri-made product.
“We updated our logo slightly and are refreshing our label,” Dustin says. “We want to keep the Midwestern feel and make ourselves a little more local.”
No matter if it’s the spicy sauce doused on pulled pork at your local barbecue chain or the Famous dressing on a salad at home with your family, Stacey says the products coming out of Ott’s are made to relish.
“It’s something I enjoy eating and can share with my kids and my family,” she says. “People use our products when they come together for fellowship.”
For more information on Ott Food Products call 417-358-2585, visit www.ottfoods.com or find them on Facebook.