Keejays first made its mark with its original Chinese Curry Sauce Concentrate, but during the pandemic they pulled out all the stops to start producing much-needed hand-sanitiser.
Based in Hadleigh, Suffolk, the family business has produced speciality sauces and concentrates for 36 years, comprising own-brand Goldfish and white-labelled ranges covering Chinese, Indian, European and traditional British varieties.
The company was founded by Sammy Lee, inspired by his Hong Kong migrant father Kee Wah Lee’s invention in 1960 of a curry sauce recipe that became a staple of Chinese takeaways across the UK before opening the first Chinese restaurant in Clacton-on-Sea and other outlets in Ipswich and Hadleigh. Today, Keejays employs 40 staff at its 33,000 sq ft purpose-built facility on a 2.5 acre site, housing an ever-developing range of production and packaging equipment.
At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, the company used its sauce production expertise to start manufacturing an item that was in short supply across the country: hand-sanitiser. “We are a very family-orientated business and our first concern when the pandemic kicked off was our employees and their wellbeing,” explains Sammy. “We were giving them disposable gloves to take home and we wanted to give them hand-sanitiser too, but there was a national shortage.
“A lot of our equipment is pharmaceutical grade, so we decided to try to make our own gel which we could also offer to the East of England Co-op to sell in its stores and for colleagues, but we needed to develop a formula at break-neck speed.”
In just over two weeks, Keejays developed a formula for a quick-drying, non-perfumed sanitiser that met food handling criteria, but it struggled to source the IPA (isopropyl alcohol) needed, due to an international shortage. “This time-sensitive challenge was extremely mentally draining as we were reaching out to companies and contacts panning the entire world. Our passion, tenacity and drive were very high and we did not take no for an answer,” says Sammy, who worked around the clock with business partner Amanda Walden to find a solution. Eventually a US supplier was found.
Keejays Goldfish hand-sanitiser began filling the shelves at East of England Co-op stores in May 2020, where it continues to be exclusively sold. The charitable company also gave away its product free to local schools, care homes and first responders at the start of the outbreak. “Knowing that the East of England Co-op would support us made a massive difference in forging forward to make this venture possible to help others in our community.
“We did it because we wanted to help folks and with the East of England Co-op in mind because they support local communities so passionately and recognise the challenges that suppliers face. Being recognised as a finalist for such a coveted award is winning enough.”