NEW YORK (AP) – It’s not just you. Sriracha is hard to come by these days – at least for a popular brand.
The Lack of Sriracha from Huy Fong Foods, the popular red hot sauce packaged in those green-capped bottles, isn’t new – the company points out that there has been a shortage of chili peppers for several years. And while frustrated fans are repeatedly confronted with store shelves missing the “Huy Fong” name, third-party vendors are raising the prices.
Huy Fong Sriracha, which used to sell for less than $5 or $10 a bottle, is now selling for shocking amounts in some listings on sites with huge third-party marketplaces, including Amazon, eBay, and Walmart. Many are simply sold out.
For those that are still in stock, prices will fluctuate depending on where you’re looking. As of Thursday morning, for example, listings for a single 17-ounce bottle on eBay rose from about $20 to a whopping $150 — a stark contrast to the prices of other hot sauce brands that don’t appear to be experiencing the same level of supply difficulties.
Huy Fong told The Associated Press this week that the company continues to suffer from raw material shortages, reminiscent of a similar shortage last year when the company was temporarily operating The sale has been discontinued of sriracha and other popular items like chili garlic and sambal oelek.
Huy Fong said on Wednesday that “limited production” has recently resumed, although the California company has not said by how much, nor has it given an estimate of when it thinks suppliers will be able to produce a sufficient number deliver peppers.
“Since we do not sell directly to the retail/market level, we cannot determine when the product will be back on shelves and/or who is currently stocking the product,” Huy Fong said in a prepared statement. “We are grateful for your continued patience and understanding during this unprecedented inventory shortage.”
Here’s what you need to know:
WHY IS THERE A HUY FONG SRIRACHA DEFICIENCY?
Some experts say Huy Fong’s shortage is partly a result of climate change — citing weather changes and extreme drought in Mexico and the US Southwest, where Huy Fong sources all of its chili peppers.
“The main reason for this is a lack of their key ingredient, the red jalapeño chili,” said David Ortega, food economist and associate professor at Michigan State University. “And that’s because of climate change and the mega-drought.”
These peppers are typically grown under irrigation, with much of the water coming from the Colorado River — which is the case reached an unprecedented low in recent years, Ortega said. The region suffered from insufficient rainfall and reduced snowpack runoff.
Huy Fong’s chilli supply problems are not new. When the company halted sales last year, it cited a 2020 email about a shortage of chili peppers, noting that the supply shortage had worsened due to recent weather conditions.
But while climate change is affecting agriculture as a whole, it’s “not the whole story” for the current shortage of Huy Fong Sriracha, said Stephanie Walker, a crop vegetable specialist and professor at New Mexico State University. She suspects Huy Fong may not have enough suppliers at different farmers – and may be trying to establish relationships with new farmers.
“Last year,[Huy Fong]just couldn’t get the jalapeños they needed,” said Walker, who also specializes in breeding chili peppers. She noticed the contrast to what other brands offer. “It really comes down to the relationships that individual processors have with their grower base.”
She added that this year looks set to be a strong season for jalapeños and other chillies in the region.
Where does Huy Fong get his chili peppers from?
Founded decades ago by David Tran, Huy Fong currently sources its chili peppers from various farms in California, New Mexico and Mexico.
Before sourcing produce from these farms, California-based Underwood Ranches was Huy Fong’s sole supplier for nearly 30 years. The partnership fell through in 2017 after a financial dispute. Two years later, a jury found that Huy Fong had breached his contract with Underwood Ranches and also committed fraud – Awarded $23.3 million to Underwood.
In a Thursday afternoon phone interview, Craig Underwood, owner of Underwood Ranches, contradicted the drought and climate change explanations for Huy Fong’s shortage – arguing that Tran “didn’t rebuild his supply chain the way he needed to.”
According to Underwood, there continues to be a steady supply of jalapeño peppers from Mexico. Underwood Ranches, which now sells its own brand of sriracha, has also restarted red jalapeño pepper production this year — partly due to the Huy Fong shortage, he added.
“Demand for our product has increased quite dramatically,” Underwood said.
The prices explode
The erosion of Huy Fong’s available supplies has pushed up prices for the brand’s still-available Sriracha. In many places, the bottles are simply sold out – an advantage for resellers who offer the now hard-to-find and highly sought-after product.
Another market power is consumer behavior, in this case hoarding. The panic of potentially losing access to a desired product causes many people to buy more than they normally need, as we’ve seen toilet paper at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People just stock up and that makes things worse,” said Ortega, also an expert on consumer choices. “In addition to these supply shocks, there is an increasing demand for the product. And prices can only really go up.”
Are there shortages of other hot sauces?
There are countless hot sauces, including other Sriracha-style products, that are still easy to find at reasonable prices. Tabasco, for example, has created a page to help customers find nearby stores that sell its Sriracha brand – and notes that it has managed to scale production to “catch most of the increasing… demand” for his sauce.
There are a few possible explanations for this, say experts. Some speculate that Huy Fong is having troubles with its current chili suppliers. Other brands could also use other varieties of pepper and source from more farms. Some might be able to tinker with recipes, too — but perfecting sauces takes just as long as finding a new twist, experts say.
“It would take years to grow the crop in an area less affected by extreme weather conditions, or to breed new varieties of peppers that are more heat tolerant and require less water, if at all possible,” says Richard Howells, Supply Chain Manager Expert at SAP , wrote in a blog entry earlier this week.