close
close

Sriracha shortage looming? Huy Fong stops production until September

play

Huy Fong Foods, maker of the Sriracha sauce that comes in rooster-adorned, green-capped bottles, says it has halted production until after Labor Day, sparking fears of another shortage.

The California company blamed the popular condiment’s production woes on the red jalapeño chile peppers that deliver the hot sauce’s tangy sweet heat. They aren’t red enough, according to Huy Fong Foods.

“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,” it told wholesale buyers in a letter this week obtained by USA TODAY. Huy Fong Foods does not sell directly to consumers.

“We regret to inform you that we have decided to halt production until after Labor Day, when our next chili season starts,” the letter continued.

It could be a bland summer. Previous red jalapeño shortages made it nearly impossible to find Huy Fong Food’s Sriracha sauce. The company’s chili garlic sauce and Sambal Oelek are also affected.

“Unfortunately, all orders that have been scheduled beginning on May 6, 2024, will be canceled and the status changed to pending,” Huy Fong Foods said.

When asked about the production issues, Huy Fong Foods told USA TODAY via email: “At this time, we have no comment.”

Will there be a Huy Fong Foods Sriracha shortage?

Fellow Sriracha makers are flush with red jalapeños and have not reported any chile pepper production issues, according to Stephanie Walker, professor and extension vegetable specialist at New Mexico State University.

She speculates Huy Fong Foods, which has been sourcing its chile peppers in Mexico, has not yet established solid relationships with dependable jalapeño growers. 

“I’ve been hearing third hand that they have tried to enlist new growers so they would have a reliable stream of jalapeños and it sounds like they haven’t been entirely successful yet,” said Walker, who is co-director of her university’s Chile Pepper Institute. 

Root of Sriracha problem: Fallout with supplier

California-based Underwood Ranches was Huy Fong’s sole supplier of jalapeños for decades until the partnership fell apart in 2017 over a financial dispute. 

Two years later, a jury determined that Huy Fong breached its contract with Underwood Ranches and committed fraud, awarding Underwood $23.3 million. Now Underwood Ranches produces a rival brand of Sriracha sauce.

Chile peppers, which are usually picked by hand, are a labor-intensive crop. Huy Fong Foods goes through about 50,000 tons of chile peppers a year to make its hot sauces.

“Growing chile peppers or jalapenos is a tricky crop. You definitely need to have experience and know how to get the crop to harvest,” Walker said. 

Red jalapeños key to flavorful Sriracha

Huy Fong told retail customers that the color of its Sriracha sauce had been affected by jalapeños harvested too soon, but not the quality and flavor.

However, using red jalapeños picked when they are still green would alter the taste, according to Walker. When they ripen, red jalapeños tend to be sweeter and have a more complex flavor. When she worked in the industry, Walker’s processing plant rejected any red jalapeño that was more than 5% green. 

“Red and green jalapeños come from the same plant. The green fruit are just the immature fruit and, as they physiologically mature, they turn red,” Walker said. “One of the reasons we had that strict 5% limit is that the green fruit can dilute the color but it also affects the flavor.”

Huy Fong fans: Prepare for runs on Sriracha

The Huy Fong Sriracha empire dates back to the end of the Vietnam War when David Tran relocated to Los Angeles and decided to go into the Sriracha business. By 1980, he was delivering orders in a blue Chevy van. The Sriracha produced by his company in Irwindale, California, has been a staple of hot sauce enthusiasts ever since.

But the agonizingly long shortages that have plagued Huy Fong in recent years have frustrated fans who begged for bottles on social media, pilfered them from restaurants or paid blistering prices to spice up steaming bowls of pho and ramen or trays of sushi rolls.

As bottles reappeared on grocery shelves and restaurant tables and households stocked up again, the bellyaching eased. But some Sriracha fans say they still feel scarred and old hoarding habits die hard.

“How many bottles of hot sauce in the kitchen cabinet are too many? Asking for a friend,” one Huy Fong fan recently posted on X.

Responded another: “My boyfriend is Vietnamese. I just counted 16 in the pantry, two in the fridge, and one on the lazy Susan. He’s still not over the Huy Fong Sriracha shortage.”