It's long been said that pets are part of the family. But dogs can also be athletes, mayors and even company leaders. Barney is one such example. The English bulldog is president and CEO of Firebarns. Okay, so Barney is more of a figurehead and mascot, but he is definitely an integral part of the company's brand. The dog inspired the business' name and is featured (often in costume) on labels across the product line. Barney belongs to Frank Ménard, who co-owns Firebarns with Pierre-Olivier Drouin. This human-canine trio has created a successful company that's providing a burst of flavour for everything from hamburgers to cocktails. We talked to Drouin about Firebarn's journey and what's next for Barney.
Drouin remembers that he and Ménard told each other: “One day, our sauces will be available worldwide. We're going to be the next Tabasco.” Firebarns was officially founded in Quebec City in 2015, but the inspiration for a hot sauce company fired up in 2014. Drouin was working in Florida when some spicy wings piqued his interest. Back in Canada, Ménard was already working on recipes. Incredibly, Drouin and Ménard only knew each other for a month before they went into business together. Both recognized that at the time, there weren't a lot of hot sauce choices in Quebec, and they wanted to come up with a new Canadian option. The men threw themselves into the project and developed their first product.
With hot sauce in hand and plenty of moxie, Drouin and Ménard visited IGA in the Chauveau neighbourhood of Quebec City. Drouin approached the manager and said, “We have our very first case of hot sauce for sale. Would you be interested in buying it from us and then retailing it?” The manager showed the pair his extensive selection of sauces and said he didn't need more. For the next three days, Drouin and Ménard continued to court the manager, trying to strike up a deal. On the fourth day, their tenacity paid off and Firebarns had their first retail customer. Drouin leveraged this initial sale to provoke some competition, selling two cases to the next grocery store manager he approached in the same area. “It started to snowball,” said Drouin.
"In life, there's no one to help you if you don't fight."- Pierre-Olivier Drouin
Now, Firebarns products are sold across Canada. In 2020, the entrepreneurs opened a 100% automated production plant. With a staff of 15 employees, the company produces hundreds of thousands of bottles of product per year. "We started with one supermarket," said Drouin. "With the new Walmart, we're almost at 1,500. All in all, it must be around 2,000 retail outlets." The Firebarns label is also carried in more than 300 restaurants throughout Quebec.
Drouin acknowledged that he and his partner had help along the way. In 2017, they appeared on Dans l'œil du dragon, the French language version of Dragon's Den. They received an offer but decided it wasn't in their best interest. However, the appearance was good for brand recognition and one of the dragons ended up becoming a mentor. Drouin remembers Christiane Germain, Co-president and Co-founder of the Groupe Germain Hospitalité, telling them: “'If someone makes you an offer, out of respect for them, you should make a counter-offer.' That's the piece of advice she gave me that I want to remember forever.”
When it came to learning about the role GS1 Canada could play in the growth of Firebarns, Drouin had an inside advantage. “I went to high school with Pierre Lessard,” he said, referring to the GS1 Canada Director of Community Engagement. “I think Pierre went above and beyond the call of duty to make us feel relaxed.” With the help of Lessard and the GS1 Canada team, Ménard and Drouin learned about the organization's tools and services and how Quebec products could be promoted. Drouin said he has been impressed with the easy-to-use platform that works in conjunction with grocery retailers. He also appreciates the ease of recalls when a product or ingredient needs to be tracked and traced. Drouin said, “Now with our system, we can determine which bottle it was and who was where when we shipped it.”
Looking ahead, Drouin would like to see Firebarns products distributed globally. Does that mean Barney will become the face of an international brand? Maybe not. The plan is to retire the original Barney but his legacy will live on. “We're about to announce the arrival of a new Barney, who'll be called Barney Junior,” confirmed Drouin. You can look for the next generation Barney on Firebarns products at grocery retailers across Canada.
Firebarns sells hot sauces, BBQ sauces, spices, condiments and a Caesar line manufactured in their production plant on the south shore of Quebec City. The business invests in local ingredients, using several hundred tons of peppers grown on Quebec soil each year. To shop products and learn more, visit Firebarns.