Zaxby’s in September, or “Saucetember,” as the company annually celebrates, auctioned a single bottle of its iconic Zax Sauce, signed by founder Zach McLeroy. The product was the first bottled iteration in Zaxby’s 33-year history and came with a lifetime supply of Zax Sauce for the winning bid.

Proceeds from the “Zax Sauce for Life” auction benefited The Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs of America. It went live on eBay on September 12, starting at $19.90 (an homage to Zaxby’s founding year).

As the story goes, McLeroy personally made the sauce three-plus decades ago and distributed it to various locations to ensure nobody else would have the recipe, start to finish. 

For “Saucetember” last year, Zaxby’s unleashed sauce-flavored popsicles.

QSR caught up with Patrick Schwing, chief marketing and strategy officer, to discuss the auction, how it went, and whether bottled sauce could be a part of Zaxby’s future plans.

Tell us about the Zax Sauce for Life Auction, the idea behind it, how it went, what it raised, and also, just what led you all to the decision to (finally) bottle the brand’s iconic sauce?

Zax Sauce is a customer favorite, and it is inherent to our brand DNA. Our fans have been asking us for years to bring bottled Zax Sauce to stores and make it available in retail. So, while nothing is off the table when it comes to that in the future, the first-ever bottle of Zax Sauce sold had to be really special and worthy of its legendary flavor. We took inspiration from some of our favorite spirit brands and created our own small-batch bottle with a bespoke label, bottle topper and sauce ramekins, all packaged in a beautiful, velvet-lined box.

The bottle was auctioned in partnership with eBay and included not just the one-of-a-kind bottle, but also a lifetime supply of Zax Sauce for the highest bidder. We didn’t know what to expect going into the auction, so it was great to see a bidding war go above $30,000. While the bottle is truly one of a kind, it’s also a very generous bid because all the proceeds will be donated to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

What kind of strategy and R&D goes into bottling a sauce that’s different than serving it in restaurants?

The sauce in the bottle is 100 percent authentic Zax Sauce, just like what is served at our restaurants. However, when you put sauce into a bottle, there are a few different processes we have to introduce. Our bottle of Zax Sauce went through shelf-life testing to ensure the bottle maintained the quality and flavor Zax Sauce is known for.

So what does the success of this promotion potentially portend about Zaxby’s thoughts about the CPG space? Is there opportunity there?

It’s clear from the online buzz surrounding the auction and the bidding itself that there is an opportunity to bring Zax Sauce to store shelves, not only in the markets where we operate, but to the whole country. The world needs Zax Sauce. While there are no concrete plans at the moment, it is something we continue to explore.

Give us a broader look at how Zaxby’s plans to market and lean deeper into its legendary sauce line. Should we expect the brand to start talking more about this platform?

Tenders, fries, and Zax Sauce will always be the cornerstone of our business, but our eight proprietary sauces are equally beloved by our guests. The success of this program gives us confidence that leaning into these core brand equities will attract more guests to our restaurants and create more Zax Sauce loyalists.

As one concrete example of how we’re bringing our sauces more to the forefront is our new tagline “Woo, Saucy” mnemonic that we created for our TV spots. Last year, we also started to test out “tossed in sauce” menu items, giving our customers the option to order their fingers and wings already tossed in one of our nine signature sauces. We also continue to innovate around new sauce flavors and are exploring how we can leverage the depth of flavor that we already have with our sauces on new menu items.

Speaking more generally, and with this promotion in mind, how has restaurant marketing evolved when it comes to organically connecting with customers? In what ways is Zaxby’s meeting loyalists and finding new customers through different channels?

At Zaxby’s, we always say “Guest is Boss.” That doesn’t end at the food on the menu or the service we provide. We also want to create content people want to interact with and share. In recent months, we’ve stepped up our game creating experiences fans can get behind—like our petition for a sauce emoji, a partnership with Matt Mitchell, an SEC super influencer on TikTok, and this auction. And we’ve really made Zax Rewardz, our loyalty program a priority to continue rewarding our most loyal customers with exclusive offers. You can definitely expect to see even more exciting things from Zaxby’s in the coming months.

Fast Casual, Marketing & Promotions, Story, Zaxby's