Sriracha hot sauce under fire; company's founder speaks out

Sriracha hot sauce is made in Irwindale, Calif.

David Tran, founder of Sriracha, says 'thank you' to all the super fans of his hot sauce.

Chilis in vats wait to be turned into Sriracha hot sauce.

Update, May 29, 2014: The maker of Sriracha hot sauce, Huy Fong Foods, may no longer be on the hot seat in Irwindale, Calif. There are reports the company hosted officials from the Los Angeles suburb, after a declaration that the plant where the sauce is made is a public nuisance, because of the smell. The Irwindale City Council reportedly voted Wednesday night to drop that declaration. Read of for a rare Q and A with the man who runs the company.

This story was last updated on Dec. 12, after hot sauce maker Huy Fong Foods' shipments were temporarily halted by the California Department of Public Health.

Hot sauce lovers everywhere are holding their breath, as the world faces the seemingly very real possibility of Sriracha-less meals. Sriracha is a hot sauce that comes in a plastic bottle with a rooster logo and bright green twist-top cap. It's widely used in soups, sauces, pizzas, chow mein, and even cocktails, as it gives any bland dish a delicious kick.

Every bottle of Sriracha-brand hot sauce is produced at a plant in Southern California. And shipments of the sauces have been halted for 30 days because of stricter state guidelines on the company.

State regulators put the new health requirement on Sriracha sauces earlier this year after they inspected the company's production process.

And that production hurdle comes after the Huy Fong factory was partially shut down under a judge's order when residents who live near the plant complained of heartburn, asthma and nosebleeds that they said were caused by the spicy smells coming from the Sriracha plant.

The city and the factory owner -- Huy Fung Foods -- are trying to come up with a solution that works for people who live there and for those who love to buy and eat the spicy red stuff.

David Tran, a refugee from South Vietnam, quietly runs the multi-million dollar private company, Huy Fung Foods.


Q: Did you ever think your company, Huy Fong Foods, was going to be so influential in the food world?

A: “No. Like a tree, it grows from a very small to a bigger one, but you watch daily. You don’t feel surprised.”

Q: What makes your Sriracha flavor so special?

A: “My Sriracha hot sauce is more than 80 percent chili and jalapeño, unlike others which are mostly water and not fresh…[also] the flavor of the jalapeño we use is special. [It's different from] the jalapeño from Mexico or Vietnam because the sun [in] California.”

Q: What do you think about copy-cat Srirachas?

A: “It’s good…[take] a red flower, it looks good but [it’s] not colorful. You need to have green and yellow ... So [in] the market, [if there was] only my hot sauce, [people] cannot compare. More competitors [are] better for consumer [choice].”

Q: Inflation has more than tripled food prices since you started making the hot sauce, but you have never changed your wholesale price. Why?

A: “The price has increased…but we can cover the increased [food] price. We just want to sell more product….[also] if we export to some expensive country, I don’t have two prices. Not domestic price and another country, another price – only one price.” 

Q: Your price has been a secret to non-distributors and reporters….

A: “I’ll tell you. For 28 ounces, we started at $2 dollars, but now $1.75. Outside they sell for $4 or $5.”

Q: How come you don’t have any sales or marketing?

A: “The growth of my business depends on the chili I can get. So if I don’t have enough chili, we can’t make the hot sauce for the market…so we don’t have the salesman or marketing.”

Q: What do you think Sriracha’s fandom?

A: “I enjoy it. I enjoy it because more and more people enjoy my product. I need to say thank you [to] everyone. Help me big or a little bit – I thank you.”

 


Earlier updates

April 18, 2014: Huy Fong Foods owner David Tran has said that he is seriously considering moving his factory to another state after a months-long battle with the city of Irwindale, California over complaints of a spicy odor emanating from sauce production during certain times of the year.

 

Huy Fong Foods representatives have said officials from many states including Alabama, Ohio, Arizona and New Mexico have made offers to host the factory. A Texas state representative earlier this week offered in a Facebook post to send a delegation from his state to Irwindale to discuss a deal with Tran to move to plant.

 

About the author

Davey Kim is a freelance reporter and producer based in Los Angeles. Kim currently interns for Marketplace and The Dinner Party Download. Kim's work has been aired on KPCC and The World.

David Tran, founder of Sriracha, says 'thank you' to all the super fans of his hot sauce.

Chilis in vats wait to be turned into Sriracha hot sauce.

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