Playing Ketchup

Laila Carroll Bowden ’90

by Kristen Manieri  |  photo by Jennifer Cawley

Laila Carroll Bowden '90

Laila Carroll Bowden ’90 had no intention of getting into the food business. Knee-deep in the business of being a mom, she was more interested in getting her three kids to eat vegetables than coming up with her grocery store’s next big thing.

Ironically, it was in her role as a mom that the light bulb flickered on.

“I was sitting with my friend, Erin Rosen, and we were both lamenting about how our kids had stopped eating vegetables,” says Laila, who majored in psychology at Rollins and married fellow alumnus Bobby Bowden ’90. “Our pediatrician had recommended that we start adding pureed vegetables to things like pizza sauce. All of a sudden we thought, hey, let’s add them to ketchup. Our kids douse everything with ketchup.”

The epicurious duo headed to the kitchen. Using a Heinz ketchup recipe they found online, they started experimenting with adding vegetable purees that wouldn’t overpower the ketchup flavor. “We were like Lucy and Ethel, I swear. We had ketchup all over us,” says Laila, who gave samples of their covert concoction to friends to try. “They all said they loved it. We felt like we were on to something.”

Spurred on by the encouragement of friends and a why-not attitude, the pair of stay-at-home moms homed in on their final recipe, secured space in a commercial kitchen, and started ordering bottles, printing labels, and creating relationships with organic farms. By the end of 2008, Krazy Ketchup had gone from brainstorm to bottle. Organic, low in sodium, sweetened with agave, and packed with sweet potato, squash, and carrots, an alternative to America’s No. 1 condiment had arrived.

It was time to hit the pavement.

“There is a little store in Malibu called Pacific Coast Greens. I walked in there with the ketchup and said, ‘I think you should carry this. We’re local,’ ” Laila recalls. “The manager asked for a few changes but then ordered a couple of cases. I would drive there monthly and deliver more.”

A friend brought a bottle into another store and they loved it, so they started distributing there as well. Soon they met a food broker, who helped them get into a 14-store chain. “It was growing at a comfortable and consistent pace, just as we planned.”

In 2010, Laila was passing a Whole Foods Market after a yoga class and decided to just go for it. After suggesting they carry the ketchup, Laila says, “They invited us to come in and do a tasting, and they loved it.” Eight months and a fair amount of hurdle-hopping later, Krazy Ketchup was green-lighted for all Whole Foods stores in the Pacific South region.

Today, it can be found in roughly 250 stores, including 45 Whole Foods, 165 H-E-B stores in Texas, and a few dozen specialty stores across the country. Laila and Erin also take orders online and ship them anywhere in the U.S.

The next chapter for Laila and Erin is getting Krazy Ketchup into schools across the country. With people like chef Jamie Oliver in their corner, that doesn’t seem so impossible. “Jamie Oliver’s team found us and loved our product, and now he uses our ketchup as a teaching tool and on his Food Revolution truck,” says Laila, who aligns with Oliver’s belief that if you teach kids about healthy eating, the obesity and diabetes epidemic can be thwarted.

Laila and Erin are also ready to grow. “We went from making 200 bottles a year in 2008 to making 10,000 a year in 2012. We really need to take it to the next level because we are growing at a pace that is exciting but also scary,” notes Laila. They’re on the lookout for the right investor, and they recently hired a publicist to increase their presence in Texas.

“Never in a million years did I think I would have helped create a product and taken it where we have taken it,” Laila says. “I love having my children see how you can create something and bring it to fruition. Yes, they see me struggling and stressed at times, but I think it’s a good lesson for them to see me face challenges and still persevere.”