Walking to work the other day I heard an interesting discussion on CBC’s Early Edition about the spicy red sauce, Sriracha. The radio host brought listeners attention to the ever growing popularity of the Vietnamese pepper sauce. Unlike the makers of Tabasco and Frank’s Red, which are well established and have a budget for advertising, this small business has yet to invest in marketing. Fancy labels and commercial advertising aside, Sriracha, recognizable by its clear plastic bottle, little green lid and distinguished golden rooster, is a household name for professional chefs and amateur foodies alike.
The growth of hot sauce in general is no doubt connected to the expansion of fusion cooking. Places like Noodle Box that offer customers Pan-Asian inspired noodles at cheap prices and in novelty packaging have capitalized on the craze. Noddle Box, the trendy Vancouver Island go to for take out, offers customers a wide selection of noodles like udon and soba, a choice of flavourings, spicy black bean is a personal favourite, and an option to douse your dinner in a sauce that is mild to suicide hot.
I know myself that once I developed a taste for it, hot sauce was no longer a condiment that was reserved for firing up my stir-fry and spicing up my take-out, it was something that could be squirted on pizza or stirred into soup. In other words, a company whose market was for a long time exclusively Asian all of a sudden became a mainstream staple. Huy Fong Foods the makers of Chili Garlic Sauce, Sambal Oelek (Ground Fresh Chili Paste), Sambal Badjak (Chili Paste with Onions), and finally, Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce, claim that despite an expansion to a 68,000 square foot building in Rosemead, California they still struggle to keep up with the demand.
While Rick Cluff of the Early Edition glorified the sauce’s pop cult following among young foodies and restauranteurs he also noted that Huy Fong Foods still does 80% of its business with Asian restaurants. The growth of Huy Fong Foods is really an entrepreneurial success story, one that is especially significant given the ethnic roots of the enterprise and its founder, who brought his original recipe for Pepper Saté Sauce with him from Vietnam.
The company’s founder was not unlike the significant population of immigrants from China and Vietnam, who moved to Rosemead starting in the 1980s, and opened their own businesses. What I love about this story, which should not be seen as exceptional as much as inspirational, is that this small business has made the cross over from an exclusively small enterprise serving the needs and wants of similar ethnic groups to gaining cult-like popularity in the mainstream market. [ Howard E. Aldrich and Roger Waldinger 1990]