Lincoln retirees are the spice behind flourishing Caribbean brand

Heidi and Steve Nolan’s Spice Isle Sauces is on track to go global, proving “it’s never too late to learn something new.”

3 min
March 29, 2024
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Steve and Heidi Nolan have come a long way from using a blow dryer to put labels on their signature Tropical Tamarind Gourmet sauce. The retired Nebraska grandparents, who bottled the flavors of their beloved vacations in Turks and Caicos, have expanded beyond local gift shops. They’re now savvy Amazon sellers, leveraging tools like Fulfillment by Amazon(FBA) and A+ Content to reach a global audience.

It’s an expansion story that comes with reinvention, which this risk-taking duo has done since they met 31 years ago. The true measure of success for the couple comes when they’re sitting with their grandkids or giving back to local charities, because, as their business has grown with Amazon, it’s also streamlined to become more efficient, giving them time to expand in other ways.

Spice Isle Sauces’ genesis was 20 years ago, when the Nolans first vacationed in the Caribbean islands. They fell in love with the beauty of sandy beaches, pristine waters and lush forests. There was something else that was easy to love: the food. “The flavors of the Caribbean,” Steve Nolan extolled, “are like no place else in the world. I said, ‘Why don’t we open a restaurant, develop our own products and bring them to the States?” “The short answer to why we are in this business,” his wife continued with a laugh, “is that my husband’s crazy. Steve is a big dream man and I’m the details person, coming along behind him, trying to put his big dreams into practice.”

After they partnered with a local chef to open a restaurant on Providenciales in 2013, Heidi Nolan led the charge of educating herself and her husband about the composition of Caribbean sauces and seasonings. Soon after, they bottled their first signature sauce, Tropical Tamarind Gourmet Sauce. They sold their sauce in island gift stores and, by 2015, were selling sauces and seasonings at Nebraska fairs, festivals and farmers’ markets, as well as on their website. The two bottled, labeled, packed and shipped their product themselves. A two-person operation, it meant there was little time left to spend together with their grandkids.

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Spice Isle Sauce has grown from selling just their signature sauce, Tropical Tamarind Gourmet, to a full line of Caribbean flavored sauces, spices and rubs.

Heidi Nolan knew there had to be a better way. On the advice of a friend, the Nolans looked at Amazon and decided to list their sauces as a test. It was new territory for the retirees. However, for Heidi Nolan, it was a chance to be the detail person once again, helping Steve’s big dream.

“I didn’t let it scare me,” said Heidi Nolan. “If you go to our Amazon store and look at our Amazon listings, everything you see is something I’ve created myself. I’ve had to teach myself how to take pictures, edit the photos and create lifestyle images. I’ve learned so much.”

“When I first looked at Amazon, I was totally overwhelmed, but I persevered and thought, ‘Nope. I can do this.’ And I did!”

The Nolans used Amazon’s free educational resource, Seller University, to learn how to list their products, how to develop their page and what makes a successful product stand out. That’s where Heidi Nolan’s eye for detail came into practice. With Amazon’s A+ Content, an advanced option for adding rich text, imagery, HD videos, banners and other features to Amazon product detail pages, their sauce photos have a place to stand out. Next, the couple leveraged FBA, a service that allows them to outsource their order fulfillment to Amazon specialists who pick, pack and ship orders for Spice Isle Sauces, taking their biggest burden off their plate. Less time and resources spent shipping products themselves means that they can invest more time and energy in the people they love and the charities they care about, like the Team Jack Foundation, the National Wild Turkey Federation and various homeless relief groups.

The Nolans learned that Spice Isle Sauce customers love free and fast shipping: “The numbers prove it.” With FBA, the Nolans saw an immediate 50% uptick in sales for their Tropical Tamarind Gourmet Sauce and a 38% increase for their brand as a whole. Now, the couple is managing cases, not packets—the first hurdle to scaling internationally. “I’m still on the learning curve,” Heidi Nolan admits. The process can be a balancing act in terms of available stock and demand, but she’s confident it will be one more thing she’ll master.

As for the future, Steve Nolan’s big dreams are clear: “I would like for us to be an established brand, recognized as a unique, top sauce, seasoning and rub company. Amazon gives us an incredible level of credibility with our customers. When we tell them we sell in Amazon’s store, they light up.”

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