Startups 20: Levi Roots Reggae Reggae Foods
The Caribbean food empire remains one of the Den’s most successful businesses
The Levi Roots story
“Put some music in my food for me, and give me some Reggae Reggae Sauce, hot Reggae Reggae Sauce. It’s so nice I had to name it twice, I call it Reggae Reggae Sauce, hot Reggae Reggae Sauce, put some Reggae Sauce on your lips.”
In 2008, after singing those words to a panel of stony-faced entrepreneurs on Dragons’ Den, Levi Roots launched himself into the public consciousness and onto supermarket shelves up and down the country.
Today, Reggae Reggae Foods remains one of the most successful businesses to ever appear on the BBC show, and now has a product range that includes numerous table and cooking sauces, seasonings, snacks, and soft drinks. Roots himself has become one of the UK’s most well-known entrepreneurs, with regular appearances on TV, and as a public speaker.
Born in Claredon, Jamaica at the tail end of the 50s, Roots learnt the secrets of Caribbean cooking from his Grandma, and also discovered a love for music in her church choir. In the 70s, he was finally able to join his parents and five older siblings in London.
Over the following decades, alongside his work as a musician and producer, Roots would make his signature sauce in his kitchen in Brixton and sell it from a bag on his back. In 1991, he combined his passion for food and music to open the Rasta’raunt, a hugely popular annual fixture at Notting Hill Carnival. However, it would be another 16 years of rejection from banks and investors – who thought the product was “too Black” – before a chance encounter with a BBC researcher led to his life changing experience in the Den.
Why we chose Levi Roots as one of the Startups 20
The last 20 years have truly been the age of reality TV, pitching hopeful contestants against each other in all manner of very public cutthroat competitions.
But no reality TV format has proved itself more cutthroat than the business reality programme – and both The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den have given us some of British TV's most savage and embarrassing moments. So, as a celebration of this relatively new phenomenon, someone who not only won one of these shows, but actually managed to launch an enduringly successful business had to be in the Startups 20. Levi Roots and Reggae Reggae Sauce is surely the epitome of that story.
But also amazing is that Reggae Reggae Sauce managed to succeed in the hyper-competitive condiment market (at one point outselling Heinz), which has so many established businesses and longstanding favourites, and to stand out on Britain's busy and unforgiving supermarket shelves. That’s surely testament to the power of the Reggae Reggae brand and its charismatic founder.
Alongside writing six cookbooks, releasing a Reggae album, and, in 2015, opening his first restaurant in Westfield Stratford City, Roots has also used his success to do good. In 2013, he embarked on his School of Life tour, inspiring children across the country to follow their dreams, and showing them how to make healthy and delicious food.
Levi Roots in 2020
Today, Roots’ personal net worth is estimated to be £45m, and the much-loved brand continues to grow and diversify into exciting new products.
Roots’ latest venture is a range of healthy ready meals and recipe kits in partnership with Nottingham-based MuscleFood. The four recipes are all under 500 calories, have a high protein content, and are low in sugar. After adopting a healthier lifestyle during lockdown, the 62-year-old entrepreneur is keen to encourage other over-40s to get fit and eat well.
Roots himself still makes frequent appearances on various ITV daytime programmes, showing viewers how to cook his own delicious Caribbean recipes at home.
And in May 2019, The Guardian announced that Roots’ rags to riches story is to be made into a film… If there are still cinemas left by the time the film is released, Levi Roots may or may not be coming to a big screen near you.
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