Is there really a Sriracha shortage?

Is there really a Sriracha shortage?

Each month, Jimmy Lee typically orders about 150 bottles of Sriracha from Hue Phong Foods for one of his Vietnamese restaurants in New York City. The sauce opens up the richness of the pho broth or adds a blast of heat to banh xiao, a Vietnamese crepe.

“It is not very spicy; It’s not too mild,” Mr. Lee said. Sriracha “can really hit the sweet spot in terms of spice, sweetness, acidity, just that tartness.”

But a few months ago, supplies began to dwindle.

Mr. Lee, who owns Madame Vo and Monsieur Vo in Manhattan’s East Village, said his vendors could not source the sauce and he could not find it in grocery stores in New York City. So he, like a few other huay phong enthusiasts, bought two large bottles on eBay for $35 each, about five times the normal price, to use at home. But that price was unaffordable for his business.

For the second year in a row, Hue Fong, maker of Sriracha’s most popular variety, is facing production problems, the company said in a statement this month, adding that there is “no estimate of when” supplies will increase due to “raw material shortages”. ”

The shortage has forced chefs like Mr. Lee to seek substitutes and adapt recipes. plastic bottles with green lids are missing from grocery stores, and walmart A two-pack of 17-ounce bottles is selling for $86. Some hardcore fans have taken the drastic step of paying an exorbitant price. Others have given up on themselves to lead a mundane life.

Hue Fong said in his statement that “limited production has recently resumed” but because the company does not sell directly to consumers, “we cannot determine when the product will be on the market again.”

It appears that the shortage hasn’t extended to other hot sauce producers.

“We have contracts with small farmers in New England where we buy our products,” said Gabe DiSeverio, founder of hot sauce maker Spicy Shark. “I have not seen any problem there. I’ve actually seen a very stable list of all the peppers.

Mr. DiSavario speculates that Hue Fong’s Sriracha shortage may be due to problems with its suppliers. Hue Fong Foods did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Tabasco, which uses red jalapeños from the United States and Latin America, is also not facing any shortages, although the company acknowledged that last year’s bad weather had had an impact on the industry. The company says it has scaled up production and started work To meet the increase in demand.

Manufacturers of hot sauce also emphasize that Sriracha is a type of sauce rather than a spice or pepper. Since so many people compare Huy Phong to Sriracha, it may seem as though there is a worldwide shortage of the sauce. There isn’t.

“People hear ‘crunch’ and people think Sriracha is black pepper—it’s not,” said George Milton, co-founder of Yellowbird, another hot sauce maker. Since the Hue Fong Sriracha shortage is in the news again, he said, he’s seen an uptick in Sriracha orders, including from restaurants that might not display bottles on their tables.

Mr. Milton also said that they have not been affected by any shortage of raw materials. “The growing seasons are getting weirder and weirder every year,” he said, adding that he has had to rely on multiple suppliers to get his ingredients in the past.

The origins of Huy Fong date back to 1975, when company founder David Tran fled Vietnam and settled in Los Angeles. He began mixing his own version of Sriracha, a sauce believed to have been invented by a Thai woman named Thanom Chakkpak, and by 1980, he was delivering orders in his blue Chevy van.

Hue Fong partnered with Underwood Ranch in California in 1988 to provide the red jalapeños that help give Hue Fong’s Sriracha its distinctive flavor. As of 2015, Underwood, 70 miles east of Hue Fong’s operations in Irwindale, was growing more than 100 million pounds of peppers per year for Hue Fong products.

But that exclusive relationship ended in 2016 due to a pay dispute. In 2019, Jury awards Underwood $23 million in loss.

Since the fallout, Huy Phong has had to look beyond his backyard for chili, which has largely depended on Mexican farms.

In recent years, Hue Phong has attributed the chile pepper shortage to climate change and a severe drought in Mexico, which has damaged the jalapeño crop. It’s true though, said Stephanie Walker, chili pepper researcher at New Mexico State University, that growing conditions have improved this year. He said that the problem of Huy Fong’s shortage could be because the company did not have enough contracts with different farmers.

Craig Underwood, owner of Underwood Ranch, which now makes its own Sriracha, said he hasn’t seen any trouble getting jalapeños from Mexico.

“There has been a huge demand for our product from former customers of Hue Fong as well as people looking for Sriracha on the street,” he said.

Yet, for many, Sriracha just has to be made by Huey Fong.

In Houston, which is home to the country’s largest Vietnamese population, popular restaurant Mai serves up at least 15 bottles of Sriracha a day. Its general manager, Anna Pham, said the restaurant had been warned about the impending shortage and had filled the stock. But it has run out of stock and is now taking suggestions from vendors on where the Hue Fong Sriracha might be available.

Ms. Pham said she recently went to a grocery store in Bellaire, Texas, about 20 minutes from Houston, where she was allowed to buy 12 bottles for about $10 per bottle.

“It’s like ketchup for Americans; It’s a major thing,” Ms. Pham said. “It’s like having salt and pepper shakers on your desk. I can’t even imagine it not being there.”

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