What’s really going on with the Sriracha shortage?

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What’s going on with Sriracha?

No spice in spicy tuna? Sriracha sauce, a hot condiment, is facing some supply chain issues.


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Last week, Huy Fong Foods announced that it was halting production of its popular hot sauce. Why? Not enough chili peppers, said the company’s executive operations officer, citing weather conditions in one Mexican region. One person with detailed knowledge of Sriracha, Huy Fong Foods and the hot sauce’s dedicated following is Griffin Hammond, a documentary filmmaker, journalist and the director of the 2013 documentary “Sriracha.”

“David [Tran, the founder of Huy Fong Foods], back when I was filming the documentary, was proud of the fact that every bottle of Sriracha can taste a little bit different,” Hammond told Grid. “He’s proud of the fact that it’s a natural farming process, but that also brings risk with it.”

Still, there’s no reason to panic just yet: “I think realistically, there’s a lot of Sriracha out in the world,” Hammond said. “They don’t sell directly to consumers, they sell to distributors, so there is a lot of inventory out on shelves now, out in the world.” While sriracha is a type of hot sauce with origins in Thailand that’s popular in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, Huy Fong’s Sriracha is one of the most famous in the U.S.

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Grid spoke with Hammond about the news of the latest threat of a shortage (yep, this has happened before), and what makes Sriracha and Huy Fong Foods so unique. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Grid: Why are people so crazy about Sriracha?

Griffin Hammond: We just have so many hot sauces in the U.S. that are very vinegar-heavy, or just intended to be super hot. So, there are ghost peppers and, you know, Tabasco is not a hot sauce where you really can taste the flavor of the peppers; you taste the heat and vinegar. But Sriracha is a sauce that you’re actually tasting the jalapeños, because it’s a relatively simple recipe. It’s mostly just jalapeños, sugar and garlic. I think that’s why people like it, because it’s hot, but it’s very flavorful.

G: Is there something about manufacturing Sriracha that makes it more vulnerable to shortages or supply issues? It seems like every few years there’s buzz around people stockpiling.

GH: The last time I remember there being an actual shortage must have been late 2013, when I was finishing editing the documentary. That’s when they were dealing with these complaints in Irwindale, California, where [Huy Fong Foods] is currently based. Residents in Irwindale were complaining that they could smell the hot peppers. And so, the city said, “Well, we’ve got to do this testing,” and I feel like [the city] did shut them down for a month. And I believe that did cause some sort of shortage for a brief period of time. This sounds like it’ll be worse, having a crop shortage.

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Back when I made the film, they were only harvesting peppers once a year. Now they’ve diversified where they get their peppers from, and they may be getting multiple harvests from multiple people. I mean, the factory is just full of like thousands and thousands of barrels full of natural peppers, which they’re just storing all year long until they want to grind it up and put it in a bottle. And so you can see how a crop failure from months ago would affect inventory now, because now they’ll run out of that pepper mash that’s in the barrels.

And I remember David [Tran], back when I was filming the documentary, was proud of the fact that every bottle of Sriracha can taste a little bit different or maybe the color’s a little bit different, because it’s not like this homogenous process. It is based on the hot peppers that they’re able to grow and harvest. And so if the peppers are a little bit bigger or a little bit smaller or a little bit redder or a little bit browner — you know, there’s different flavor every time — he’s proud of the fact that it’s a natural farming process, but that also brings risk with it.

G: Sriracha has this fascinating fan base and cult following detailed in your documentary. How do you think consumers are likely to react if there is a shortage this summer?

GH: People do get very excited about it. I think it’s one way to kind of show their fandom. People like to jump on the story and go, “Oh, I love Sriracha so much. I better stock up.” I think realistically, there’s a lot of Sriracha out in the world. They don’t sell directly to consumers, they sell to distributors, so there is a lot of inventory out on shelves now, out in the world. I don’t know if it’ll really have a huge impact on, you know, regular people’s lives. It may have a big impact on Vietnamese restaurants and sushi restaurants that rely on it heavily as an ingredient in spicy tuna. So they may need to stock up. But I did find out about this on the Sriracha subreddit. So it’s definitely within the fandom of Sriracha that people are going to be talking about this the most.

G: Jalapeños are so integral to the recipe, but is there a way to tweak the recipe or improvise or make your own?

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GH: I suppose you could go out and buy your own jalapeños and make your own sauce, but you’re going to run into the same supply issues as a consumer that Huy Fong is. Huy Fong is making it more efficiently than anyone else could. So if they’re running out of peppers, then surely grocery stores can run out of jalapeños as well? I don’t know.

Like I said, they harvest and process the peppers, and then they store them for a long time before they use them. So if we’re talking about a crop problem from in the spring or even further back, these may be shortages that already hit grocery stores long ago, and maybe even once we’re out of that problem in grocery stores, it’ll still be affecting Huy Fong Foods, because they still have to get new peppers in the door and bottle them up and everything. So I don’t know if we’ll even notice it — it’s such a delayed supply chain issue.

G: Anything else you’re potentially keeping in mind or watching for?

GH: Huy Fong Foods requires a lot of jalapeños, compared to most manufacturers. I mean, they make three products, and all three products have jalapeños in them. Back when I made the film, they were harvesting 100 million pounds of peppers annually or something crazy like that. And I’m sure it could be double now. They’re kind of a unique case, where one crop really affects them uniquely.

There’s a lot of manufacturers out there that could probably switch to another pepper if they had to. Sriracha, because it’s so flavor-forward, would be a completely different product if they tried to swap in serranos [another type of chili pepper] or something.

Thanks to Lillian Barkley for copy editing this article.