- Associated Press - Saturday, February 7, 2015

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) - Peggy Cosgrove knows a thing or two about the general public’s unwavering devotion to the Buffalo wing.

Several years ago, she had an epiphany of sorts. She realized that, while the area bulged at the seams with wing joints, it lacked in terms of bottled finished wing sauces people could purchase at their neighborhood supermarkets.

Market potential realized, Cosgrove eventually took the plunge and embarked on a risky yet exciting new adventure.

In March 2012, with help from her sister Kathleen Fritch and a small business loan, she started selling her Peggy’s Wing Sauce brand of bottled Buffalo wing sauces.

The business has grown substantially in the three years since its launch and can now be found at more than 60 stores, including Gerrity’s, Price Chopper, Quinn’s, Ray’s and, just recently, Wegmans.

“Getting in Wegmans is huge,” said Cosgrove on a recent afternoon at her Green Ridge home. “It took over a year to land that.”

While most of her business is confined to Northeast Pennsylvania, Cosgrove does have a few out-of-town stores on her list, including the Jubilee Market on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The sauce also can be purchased on Amazon.com.

“At times, things have been overwhelming. But, at the same time, the return we have gotten back and continue to get back has been invaluable,” Cosgrove said. “Taste sells. … And we wanted to promote a local product and build a brand.”

Opportunity knocks

Of course, Cosgrove’s name should be well known to local wing fans.

For many years, she co-owned Kelly’s Pub & Eatery in South Scranton with five of her sisters. The restaurant long has been known to serve some of the area’s best wings.

While helping to run the front of the house at Kelly’s, in addition to her day job as a family and consumer science teacher at Scranton High School, Cosgrove had harbored dreams of putting out a bottled wing sauce - more precisely, a finished wing sauce, complete with hot sauce, margarine and spices.

“It was something that my sister Kathleen and I always talked about doing,” Cosgrove said. “We were convinced there was an opportunity.”

They spent a significant amount of time researching bottlers and other facets of the retail business. After much thought, Cosgrove decided to go ahead and start the business in late 2011, using a $20,000 small business loan and her own money.

“As my cousin said the other day, ‘Most people talk about doing something, but they never do it. You did it,’” Cosgrove said. “It was a risk. The hardest part of this endeavor was saying yes.”

She and her sister received some assistance from a program at St. Joseph’s University, as well as the University of Scranton’s Small Business Development Center. However, most of what they learned was on-the-job trial and error.

Cosgrove stressed that the sauces are her own concoctions, not Kelly’s, which Cosgrove left shortly after starting the business.

The sauce started with three varieties - mild, medium and hot, which Cosgrove describes as hot yet not so hot that “you have to sign a waiver.” Last year, Cosgrove launched a new flavor, Sweet Heat, which combines the hot sauce with Asian-inspired ginger-based flavors.

Mild is her No. 1 seller, yet Sweet Heat is quickly gaining ground, she said. Like all the other sauces, she developed it over an extended period of time, submitting it to a group of friends she refers to as her “test panel.”

Each sauce is kosher and, except for the Sweet Heat, gluten-free.

On the shelves

Of course, to get her product off the ground, Cosgrove needed to find a good place to distribute it.

“I went up and down the valley with my bag and went to all the stores and talked to all the managers,” she said.

Gerrity’s was the first to take her on, giving her shelf space in all of its stores. In time, other stores followed, thanks to Cosgrove’s persistence and dozens of in-store demonstrations.

“The demos sell a bottle every time,” she said. “I just try and promote myself in any way I can.”

Part of Cosgrove’s sales pitch is the sauce’s versatility. In fact, the Peggy’s Wing Sauce motto is: “It’s not just for wings anymore!”

Over time, she’s developed a diverse slate of recipes that make use of the sauces, from hot wing dip to mac and cheese to scallops to deviled eggs to even martinis.

“It’s excellent on seafood, chicken, pork and steak. It’s great for grilling, Croc k-Potting, marinating. People love it on their eggs,” she said.

In the beginning, the sauce was sold in 16-ounce plastic bottles. Then, Cosgrove switched to a 12-ounce plastic. Now, it’s a 12-ounce glass bottle. Meanwhile, she’s made several changes to the bottle’s decal design.

For her bottling, Cosgrove uses a company from Vermont that produces each flavor in 400-gallon batches.

“People think I’m in the basement doing it,” Cosgrove said with a laugh.

From there, the bottles are trucked to a local warehouse, where Cosgrove takes them and distributes them with help from her sister and a couple of friends. In the spring, she’ll begin using a small distributor.

Cosgrove spends many nights and weekends crisscrossing the valley checking on her product.

“There is no greater joy than walking in a grocery store and seeing your product on a shelf wiped out because of Sunday sales or after a football game,” said Cosgrove, who also uses the business to do community service work for organizations like the Ronald McDonald House and Jewish Discovery Center. (She’s been named to the Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal’s “Top 25 Women in Business,” and received a SAGE Award from the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce.)

In the coming months, Cosgrove will release two more flavors. Sales have doubled over the last year -Ms. Cosgrove declined to offer specific figures - and people now often ask her when she’s going to try out for the popular entrepreneurial reality show “Shark Tank.”

Ultimately, Cosgrove would love to see Peggy’s Wing Sauce sold in stores up and down the Northeast Corridor, from Boston to Washington, D.C.

“We do want to be a regional brand, absolutely,” Cosgrove said. “It’s crazy. Sometimes I have to sit back and think about what we did.”

“It’s an ongoing process of changing it and making it better, constantly,” she added. “That’s important.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1D227Y4

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Information from: The Times-Tribune, https://thetimes-tribune.com/


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