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News / Life / Food

Stock up: Sriracha shortage looms again

Production paused as key pepper crop awaited

By Marisa Gerber and Nathan Solis, Los Angeles Times
Published: May 17, 2024, 6:03am

The Sriracha shortage panic has returned.

In what’s become a dreaded tradition in recent years, fans of the beloved spicy chili sauce just got more bad news: The California company that popularized the condiment known for its distinctive fiery red color has halted production until after Labor Day.

Earlier this month, Huy Fong Foods, which is based in Irwindale, Calif., sent a letter to its distributors blaming the four-month pause that could eventually snarl the sauce’s supply chain on the recent harvest of red jalapeño peppers.

“After reevaluating our supply of chili, we have determined that it is too green to proceed with production as it is affecting the color of the product,” Huy Fong Foods wrote to its wholesale customers in a letter reviewed by The Los Angeles Times. “Although this does not affect the quality and flavor of our sauce, we regret to inform you that we have decided to halt production until after Labor Day, when our next chili season starts.”

A representative for Huy Fong declined to directly comment to The Times about the production halt.

What caused past Sriracha shortages?

The company goes through about 50,000 tons of chiles a year to make its Sriracha, chile-garlic sauce and a sambal oelek, Huy Fong revealed in 2022.

For decades, the company got its peppers from Underwood Ranches in Ventura County, Calif., but the relationship unraveled. In 2017, Huy Fong sued the grower, which quickly filed a cross-complaint accusing the hot sauce empire of a breach of contract that the grower said had cost it more than $20 million in losses.

Two years later, a Ventura County jury sided with the jalapeño farmer, awarding it $23 million.

In of its last shipments to Huy Fong, Underwood Ranches delivered 100 million pounds of peppers, according to Craig Underwood, founder and owner of the Underwood farms.

In the following years, Huy Fong scrambled to find new pepper suppliers. The company purchased its peppers from several suppliers in Mexico, but claimed dire drought conditions in recent years hurt harvests.

The company has also sourced peppers from California growers in recent years, but the demand for peppers appears to be too great for its suppliers.

Last spring, during a slowdown in production of the hot sauce — which is packaged in distinctive bottles adorned with an image of a rooster and a neon green squeeze top — the company released a statement saying it was “still experiencing a shortage of raw material,” a sign of a dwindling harvest that climate experts warn will increasingly be the norm.

What’s the beloved brand’s backstory?

David Tran, a Vietnamese refugee who upon arriving in the U.S. couldn’t find a hot sauce he liked, decided to create his own, founding Huy Fong Foods in Los Angeles in 1980.

Through the years, he built it into a multimillion-dollar pepper empire that introduced Sriracha to the U.S. The company also makes a chili-garlic sauce and a ground chili paste called sambal oelek, both of which will also be affected by the production halt, USA Today reported. Today, Tran’s version of the company’s most famous sauce, which originated in Si Racha, Thailand, lines grocery shelves across the nation (when it’s in stock) and has won a cult following among devoted fans and foodies.

Bon Appétit named Sriracha its 2010 ingredient of the year.

How are consumers and competitors reacting?

Several Sriracha die-hards posted in dismay last week, saying they planned to stock up before a potential shortage.

One person posted on X, linking to a story about the production halt and adding a message in all caps: “CAN’T WE HAVE ANYTHING NICE ANYMORE?” Someone else wrote that they planned to rush out and buy a case of bottles.

One of Huy Fong’s main competitors, Tabasco, bought the website srirachashortage.com, which redirects to a page on its site showing a large picture of its version of Sriracha, which save for swapping out the label and a gold top for the signature green one, resembles Huy Fong’s bottle.

On its website, Underwood Ranches, the Ventura County grower that launched its own line of sauces after things went sour with Huy Fong, sells a three-pack of its Sriracha bottles adorned with an image of a dragon for around $27.

A tagline at the bottom of the Underwood site, which the grower indicated was trademarked, reads: “The peppers make the sauce.”

This year’s record rainfall hasn’t had an impact on Underwood’s chili pepper crops, according to owner Craig Underwood.

“We’re still able to put out our sauce with no problem,” he said when reached by phone Friday.

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Underwood said Huy Fong Foods has struggled to find a consistent and reliable supplier for its red peppers since their partnership ended.

“Creating a supply chain like that is far more complicated than people realize,” Underwood said. “The general public just takes for granted when these types of peppers are available. And there’s a much more sophisticated process to when you pick them and how you pick them.”