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Posted on Sun, Mar 7, 2010 : 5:56 a.m.

Ann Arbor-based Clancy's Fancy hot sauce fired up for sales growth

By Janet Miller

Clancy’s Fancy, the little iconic hot sauce borne during Ann Arbor’s hippie days, has been given new life.

For the first time in its more than 30-year history, Clancy’s Fancy has a marketing strategy, a business plan, an advertising budget and even a Web page. The changes over the past year or so have positioned the tiny company to expand. Sales in 2009 doubled from the previous year.

clancy's fancy bottles.jpg

The old label is centered while the new label is on the right and left. The hot sauce comes in three flavors: Mild, hot and extra hot. The temperature is controlled by the peppers.

Still, the goal isn’t to become profitable, said Matt Turner, Clancy’s Fancy partner. It’s to break even.

The stories of founder Colleen Clancy and Turner intersected a year-and-a-half ago: Clancy began making her hot sauce in 1979 after friends encouraged her bottle the recipe she used to spice up pizza. Her vegetarian friends were looking for a pepperoni replacement and Clancy concocted the sauce as a tofu marinade.

Unlike most hot sauces on the market, Clancy’s Fancy was expensive: The recipe called for Michigan honey, extra virgin olive oil, fresh garlic and ginger and apple cider vinegar rather than white vinegar, which is three-times cheaper. But that’s what made her hot sauce special, Clancy said. The cost for a 4-ounce bottle runs between $6.50 and $8.

Clancy’s Fancy developed a dedicated following. Local restaurants, from the former Del Rio to Angelo’s to Seva used Clancy’s Fancy. It was stocked on the shelves of Michigan natural food stores and gourmet groceries. Visitors to the area would pick up a bottle locally but continue to buy it mail order. Somehow, it ended up in a small number of restaurants around the country, including a gyros shop in Boise, Idaho, Clancy said.

But the company was run on a wing and a prayer.

"Every once in a while, we’d put $100 or $1,000 into it,” Clancy said. “We had no plan, no money, no marketing.” 

There were times when her part-time staff didn’t get paid, and Clancy eventually found another job. Finances were so tight she couldn’t afford to put a bar code on the hot sauce packaging. The equipment was wearing out.

colleen clancy and matt turner.jpg

Partners Colleen Clancy, company founder, and Matt Turner, who invested in the company, are in the company offices at 401 E. Stadium, near Crisler Arena.

For years, annual sales hovered between $20,000 and $30,000, Clancy said.

Then, acouple of years ago, Turner was being introduced to Clancy’s Fancy. 

An Ann Arbor native, University of Michigan graduate and venture capitalist and CEO of Amherst Fund, LLC, Turner participates in tailgate cook-offs before football games. Because everyone who was winning the cook-offs used Clancy’s Fancy, the hot sauce was banned because it was an unfair advantage, Turner said. 

But it also got Turner curious about the company. He called Clancy on a whim to discover the mixer broken, the label machine in its death throes and the company’s future uncertain.

The two decided to become partners.

While Turner works with technology and medical device companies, he had become a fan of the hot sauce and wanted to keep it in production. 

“I’m realistic about hot sauce,” he said. “It’s not a huge money maker. It’s not like a blockbuster drug. 

"The goal was to keep the company around. All it needed was a little bit of money and some business development.”

That meant rebranding and marketing: The label was changed to better announce that it was a hot sauce, keeping the Clancy family crest in the logo along with the shamrocks. A bar code was added so stores would be more willing to stock it. And a second distributor was identified. 

Getting Clancy’s Fancy into the five Michigan Whole Foods Markets was a coup. And Clancy now does regular samplings are area food stores.

Clancy’s Fancy may receive a couple of marketing boosts in the near future. The movie “Red Dawn,” which filmed in Michigan, features Clancy’s Fancy in a bar scene. One of the production staff’s name was Clancy, so he slipped it in, Clancy said. And Oprah Winfrey has shown an interest in the hot sauce, Clancy said.

Clancy’s Fancy production was changed. Until recently, production was nomadic, going from using the Del Rio kitchen to the Eden Foods’ kitchen. It moved several more times in recent years. To position the company for growth and stability, production was moved to a facility in Auburn Hills. It’s still made small batch using the same recipe.

 “It was a huge change,” Clancy said. “But it’s the only way it will take off.”

Turner said they are re-writing the business plan every six months. The goal, for now, is to penetrate the regional market, keep the shelves stocked and to break even. 

“To be profitable, we’d have to extend beyond hot sauce,” Turner said, “into pre-mixing Clancy’s Fancy with things such as mayonnaise and hummus.” 

But that, he said, is for another day.


Dug Song

Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 9:49 p.m.

I fondly remember being introduced to Clancy's Fancy as a freshman line cook at Seva, making the special yam fries sauce (killer combo!). Still my favorite hot sauce. It's great to hear of folks investing in local food companies. I'm curious if there are others (I've known local angels and VCs who have privately invested in restaurants, but I've always wondered if there would be the opportunity to build another Eden Foods-scale local food company here)?

Linda Peck

Wed, Mar 10, 2010 : 11:18 a.m.

Hi Colleen! That's great news for a wonderful staple that everyone I know around here and beyond love. You look beautiful in that picture, as usual! Linda Peck

Snarf Oscar Boondoggle

Tue, Mar 9, 2010 : 6:40 p.m.

hurrrrah!! congratulations colleen! you told me about this possibility a few months ago and i am SO happy for you, yet again.

Tom Easthope

Mon, Mar 8, 2010 : 11:16 p.m.

I am overjoyed to hear Colleen is hanging in there. Colleen-all the A2 Easthopes have never stopped rooting for you. Best. Tom

Adam Jaskiewicz

Mon, Mar 8, 2010 : 3:13 p.m.

Ed, I know. I guess my point was that a particular hot sauce being "wheat free" doesn't strike me as especially unique.

Adam Jaskiewicz

Mon, Mar 8, 2010 : 2:25 p.m.

Is it uncommon for hot sauces to be wheat free?? I guess if it contains soy sauce there could be concern depending on the particular style of soy sauce. Other than that, I don't really think of hot sauce as being a wheat-containing product.


Sun, Mar 7, 2010 : 10:28 p.m.

Best part of the sauce it's local and wheat free! Met her at an event in Birmingham last year, great product!


Sun, Mar 7, 2010 : 4:54 p.m.

Clancy's Fancy was a staple at the Central Cafe - one of the last generation of true Ann Arbor hangouts! Coffee and burritos at 3 am!

Adam Jaskiewicz

Sun, Mar 7, 2010 : 3:16 p.m.

I always have a bottle in my fridge. I don't use it much, though; it takes me a couple months to go through.


Sun, Mar 7, 2010 : 2:43 p.m.

I used to live in A2 (was born there) but am now a 25+ yr Alaska resident. All this time I can't find it in stores so I have my A2 based parents ship it up by the case to cure my fix. Three bottles are on the table in different heats. We share it with or friends in Dillingham, AK who tend to hoard it and don't always deliver the bottles to the intended recipient.


Sun, Mar 7, 2010 : 1:25 p.m.

Wow, Spooner! This is a textbook example of what is best about a local economy and value added work. Was the garlic locally grown? Now that would complete the circle.


Sun, Mar 7, 2010 : 12:21 p.m.

In the late 1970s I was growing garlic and selling it to Colleen and others. She was having a hard time getting it peeled, so she asked me if I would peel it. Peeling garlic is a lot like crocheting, without the colors, so I enjoyed doing it. This led me to a 20 year long business supplying Clancy's and a lot of local restaurants with pre peeled garlic, which kept me earning a living. Thanks a lot Colleen.


Sun, Mar 7, 2010 : 9:33 a.m.

I love Clancy's Fancy, wish they would offer it in bigger bottles.

Joel Goldberg

Sun, Mar 7, 2010 : 8:41 a.m.

Clancy's has been a constant but underutilized staple in our house for decades. Thanks for the reminder -- a dash is going to find its way into this morning's avocado omelet.


Sun, Mar 7, 2010 : 8:36 a.m.

I remember when Clancy's was made in the kitchen at 630 Oxford St. It use to smell so bad (actually, I liked it) that everyone used to get out of the house on the days when she cooked up a batch. A great hot sauce with a local history! 630 club lives!