Here’s What’s Wrong with Tabasco Releasing a Sriracha Sauce

Why does Tabasco's incursion into Sriracha territory feel so out of order?

Photo: Tabasco, flickr.com/reed_sandridge

Photo: Tabasco, flickr.com/reed_sandridge

Are you a purist or a pragmatist? Reactions to Tabasco’s new Sriracha hot sauce have divided hot-heads into two camps.

On the one hand, the loyalists:

And on the other, the-more-the-merrier types:

This isn’t the first pretender to the Huy Fong Foods throne. According to TIME, Trader Joe’s sells its own Sriracha sauce and brands like Subway have Sriracha-flavored products. But the main reason Tabasco elbowing in on the action elicits such an emotional response is down to one thing: An image problem.

TabascoSriracha Heres Whats Wrong with Tabasco Releasing a Sriracha Sauce

Photo: Tabasco

Huy Fong Foods represents the American Dream. David Tran, a refugee of the Vietnam war, founded the company in Los Angeles in 1980. The LA Times reports the following origin tale: after settling in America, Tran could find neither a job nor a hot sauce he liked. And so he made his own—by hand, in a bucket—and started selling it out of a van.

Huy Fong Foods represents the American Dream.

Like many entrepreneurial luminaries before him, he encountered resistance. People told him his product was too spicy for American palates, and advised him to sweeten it or tone it down with a tomato base. But Tran stuck to his guns with the immortal line: “Hot sauce should be hot… We don’t make mayonnaise here.” And the rest is history.

Who can resist a rags-to-riches story of a hard-working immigrant who overcame the odds and created a cult condiment? The man even named his company after the freighter ship that carried him out of Vietnam—and into culinary legend. It’s the kind of uplifting tale that’s just made for Hollywood (or made to be spun into a documentary).

Sriracha 500x267 Heres Whats Wrong with Tabasco Releasing a Sriracha Sauce

Photo: ebay.com

Tabasco’s history is less sentimental, but it has a strong heritage. In the 1860s, Edmund McIlhenny began bottling the hot sauce on Avery Island in Louisiana, where it’s still made today. And according to Tabasco’s website, the current Chairman of the Board and CEO is a direct descendent of the company’s founder, the seventh McIlhenny to carry on the legacy.

Tabasco’s history is less sentimental, but it has a strong heritage.

But few think of Tabasco as a locally-rooted family company, because it’s just too big. The top-selling hot sauce in the country raked in $200 million last year, reports Bloomberg, and claims 19% of market share. It’s labelled in 22 languages and sold in 165 countries; it’s on every diner table you’ve ever sat at. It’s ubiquitous, it’s corporate—it’s the Goliath of hot sauces. And no one ever empathizes with the biblical giant.

srirachaCartoon Heres Whats Wrong with Tabasco Releasing a Sriracha Sauce

Photo: The Oatmeal

The timing of Tabasco’s foray into Sriracha is also interesting. Huy Fong Foods’ new factory in Irwindale, CA has been declared a public nuisance by local officials due to the strong smell of chilis that emanates from it. TIME reports that a lawsuit is currently in the courts, and there’s a possibility the factory will have to shut down or relocate—which could mean a shortage of Sriracha on supermarket shelves.

Tabasco is only able to capitalize on that cult following because Huy Fong Foods can’t patent the Sriracha name.

From a business perspective, this is a prime moment for Tabasco to swoop in and capture some of that Sriracha market share. From a PR standpoint, though, it comes across as opportunist and predatory. Sriracha fandom arose around the rooster; Tabasco is only able to capitalize on that cult following because Huy Fong Foods can’t patent the Sriracha name (which is derived from a town in Thailand). In short, Tabasco didn’t earn it. And maybe they know it, and that’s why they’ve been so quiet about the new product release.

[via Angry Asian Man]

  • http://www.DataScopic.net/ Oz

    The sriracha world is so much bigger than Huy Fong. And consider that Huy Fong uses Potassium Sorbate, and Sodium Bisulfite as ingredients. YUK!

    I have massive respect for David Tran, but there are much better srirachas available. In a smackdown we held last summer, Organicville’s Sky Valley Sriracha won.

    Smackdown:
    http://srirachalove.blogspot.com/2013/07/sriracha-smackdown-part-ii-who-reigns.html

    Sky Valley:
    http://organicvillefoods.com/products/condiments/sriracha-sauce/

    My personal favorite sriracha is a ghost pepper sriracha from California Blazing Chili Farms:
    https://www.etsy.com/listing/165113213/blazing-dragon-ghost-pepper-sriracha?ref=market

    Initial reports say that the Tabasco Sriracha tastes pretty good. If it doesn’t have any goofy ingredients, I’ll give it a try.

  • whensly

    I’m with Oz. Huy Tan’s Sriracha is a rip on the Thai Sriracha made in an area called Sriracha. I’ve been to the factory, no funky ingredients. So Tan rips the original and now Tabasco rips Tan? Don’t think so. I’ll also contend that the sriracha tan makes has too much sugar and garlic and gives spice and a funky flavor to whatever it’s applied too, usually food that is tasteless and needs spice. Sad state of affairs. Ps; The original flavor Tabasco is one of americas greatest food products.

  • DS

    You ask “Who can resist a rags-to-riches story of a hard-working immigrant who overcame the odds and created a cult condiment?” but neglect to mention that the story of Tabasco is exactly the same, minus the immigrant part. A bankrupt man, living with is in-laws, throws everything he has into a pepper sauce and builds it into the #1 brand in the US — all while keeping the business family owned and the core recipes honest (salt, vinegar, spices).

  • Tradmark Lawyer

    “Tabasco is only able to capitalize on that cult following because
    Huy Fong Foods can’t patent the Sriracha name (which is derived from a
    town in Thailand)”

    WRONG! JOURNALISTS: LEARN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TRADEMARKS AND PATENTS!

    In any case, I think there’s a good argument to be made that “Sriracha” can be trademarked, because it is arguably a famous mark with lots of secondary meaning, at least in the US.

Newsletter

Feed your inbox.

Subscribe