Abe Kamarck knows the transition from Navy helicopter pilot to founder of a condiment company isn’t a typical one.
“I never thought I’d have a ketchup business — I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I never thought I’d be doing this,” he said.
But Kamarck said his four kids were dousing their meals with ketchup each day, making him cringe.
“As a parent, you want your kids to eat as healthy as possible,” he said. “And ounce for ounce, ketchup has more sugar than ice cream.”
Kamarck started True Made Foods in 2015. His first goal? Creating a healthier version of his kids’ favorite dinner companion.
“I figured if I was losing these battles at the dinner tables, I’d better win the war. And to do that, I needed to make a better ketchup,” he said.
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The kitchen wasn’t new territory for Kamarck. His Sicilian mother taught him to cook at an early age. Together, they’d make pasta sauce from scratch.
“My mom always said, “only lazy Italians use sugar.”
So instead, they used carrots to cut the acidity.
Years later, and using mom’s advice, Kamarck began experimenting with fruits and vegetables, including carrots, butternut squash, and apples to create a low-sugar ketchup, and eventually, a no-sugar ketchup.
His kids served as the ultimate taste-testers.
“You can’t fool a 5-year-old,” Kamarck said. “They’re brutally honest when it comes to what they like and don’t like. So, when they liked it and couldn’t tell the difference between typical ketchup, that’s when I knew we had something.”
Kamarck had the product; next came manufacturing and selling.
“Being a Bravo [helicopter] pilot helped a ton,” he said. “When you’re a pilot, you’re a jack of all trades, master of none. You also learn to learn really quickly, and that helped me from a soft skills standpoint.”
Kamarck says you’re constantly in a state of emergency as an entrepreneur.
“You’re forced to prioritize your time and effort — and I always think back to flight school: aviate, navigate, communicate,” he said.
Kamarck looks to that flight training, even though he’s been out of the cockpit for several years.
“I think about it this way, with a business, you’re about to crash at any given time,” he said. “When it comes to keeping the business in the air, your sales are your airspeed, and your investment is your altitude. You need to keep both of those things going to keep the business going.”
After tackling ketchup, Kamarck moved on to barbecue sauce.
“In the last 30 years or so, barbecue sauce has become nothing but corn syrup and sugar,” he said. “Barbecue has become an unhealthy food, and it doesn’t have to be.”
But he didn’t have a background in barbecue.
“I didn’t want to launch a barbecue sauce on my own,” Kamarck explained. “I wanted to do it right.”
So, he enlisted some help from Ed Mitchell, a Vietnam veteran known as “The Pitmaster” in barbecue circles.
“He’d just been diagnosed as pre-diabetic and was worried about what was happening to him and his family health-wise,” Kamarck said.
Together, they created five low-sugar or no-sugar barbecue sauces.
In addition to True Made Foods breaking into major supermarkets, including Whole Foods, Wal-Mart, Kroger, and Sprouts, you can find Kamarck’s condiments at Major League ballparks as the official ketchup and barbecue sauce for the Boston Red Sox and Washington Nationals.
“If you’re taking your kids to the ballpark, you know it’s not necessarily going to be a healthy day of eating … but this is a step in the right direction.”
From helicopter missions to the True Made Foods’ motto, Kamarck is focused on bringing nutrition back to American staples, cuisines, and traditions.
“I have four kids. I know how hard it can be to get them to eat a healthy, well-rounded diet. Face it, you’re going to give them chicken nuggets sometimes, but you’ll feel better if they’re dipping those nuggets in ketchup made of vegetables versus ketchup made from corn syrup,” Kamarck said.
“You don’t have to sacrifice taste to eat better.”
Learn more about True Made Foods.