Huy Fong Foods, the company behind THE Sriracha hot sauce, has never spent a cent on advertising.
Their Sriracha sauce was named Ingredient of the Year by Bon Appétit and is a favorite for astronauts living on the International Space Station.
It sells over 20 million bottles a year, and made made over $85 million dollars in revenue in 2013. It has introduced and polarized hot sauces as a condiment, and despite all the new competition, its revenue grows 20% annually.
Established companies like Subway and Lay’s have been jumping on the Sriracha wagon with copycat sauces.
How did Huy Fong Foods’ Sriracha become so popular?
1. High quality product in a clear niche: Sriracha first won over Asian chefs, and by extension their friends and family
First, the focus on quality: Huy Fong has used the same suppliers for the past two decades. Instead of importing cheaper chilis or outsourcing production, they obtain all their chilis from a family farm an hour north of LA.
This allows Huy Fong to grind the chilis on the same day they’re picked, ensuring the freshest possible product and maintaining consistency.
When its popularity started to soar, some people told founder David Tran to make it less spicy or more sweet. His reply?
“Hot sauce must be hot. If you don’t like it, use less. We don’t make mayonnaise here.”
Kara Nielsen, a food trend watcher, thinks Sriracha probably began its journey to fame when Asian employees at fine-dining restaurants began bringing the sauce in for their own meals. The hot sauce is made entirely from scratch in Los Angeles, but part of its appeal lies in its perceived authenticity. It’s also been used by sushi chefs for years to make their tuna rolls spicier.
2. Re-broadcasting: Sriracha gets popularized every time somebody references it as an ingredient in a recipe
A quick Google search for Sriracha recipe returns over half a million results for making your food better with Sriracha. There’s Sriracha-infused butters, breads with Sriracha-swirls, Sriracha popcorn, bacon, ice-cream, hummus and even cocktails. It just works, in everything. People love sharing their recipes and you can find them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.
In 2011, author Randy Clemens published The Sriracha Cookbook, following up two years later with The Veggie-Lover’s Sriracha Cookbook.
It’s cheap and easily available, and everyone from top chefs to home cooks are using it.
3. Huge boost from high-profile influencers and everyday fans who create Sriracha-themed content
Matthew Inman of popular website The Oatmeal once wrote a love letter to Sriracha, which has literally hundreds of thousands of shares. He also made a Sriracha addict quiz, and sells Sriracha-themed merchandise.
Griffin Hammond loved Sriracha so much, he raised over $20,000 on Kickstarter (exceeding his $5,000 goal by 400%!) and travelled halfway across the globe to make a documentary about it. The documentary went on to win “Best Short Film” awards at multiple film festivals and includes a super-cheesy ‘Sriracha Anthem’.
HYPEBEAST got in on it as we released a video of Sriracha’s manufacturing process and an interview with David Tran, reaching over 2 million subscribers.
These are just a few examples of what’s out there. Sriracha fans have made quizzes and videos and artwork and all kinds of amazing things to share their love of the hot sauce.
4. Competitiveness and social currency: How spicy can you take it?
Hot sauces have something about them that most foods don’t quite have – a competitive streak. There aren’t really competitions about mustard, and nobody’s really interested in how much ketchup you can guzzle (unless it’s in the gallons, maybe).
4. Sriracha-themed products and accessories are available all over the Internet, making great gifts and talking points for Sriracha fans
The Sriracha name cannot be trademarked as it’s named after a location in Thailand, making it as generic as ‘ketchup’ or ‘champagne’. David Tran doesn’t mind. He sees every new version of Sriracha as free advertising for his company, encouraging more people to try hot sauces and increasing exposure.
Huy Fong has, however, trademarked the rooster logo and the distinctive bottle. The company has licensing agreements with a small number of specialty producers who make stout, popcorn and a $80 gold pendant among other things. The small, family-owned company sees no point in going after companies that use the brand for other products (lip balms, t-shirts, etc).
Some of the more popular Sriracha-themed products include Sriracha2Go and SrirachaBox. Huy Fong Foods also collaborated with Mediacom Toys to produce Sriracha Bearbricks, that were sold exclusive at San Diego’s Comic Con last year.
5. Engaging with the community – the Sriracha factory opens up for free weekly tours
In 2013, the city of Irwindale, where Huy Fong’s factory is located, filed a lawsuit against the company claiming that odors emanating from the factory were a public nuisance.
In response, Tran decided to open up the factory to weekly tours, in a move reminiscent of Willy Wonka. Visitors get a walk through the factory, a taste of special Sriracha treats, temporary tattoos, a free T-shirt and an appearance by David Tran. It’s become a bit of a tourist attraction!
6. Dozens of Sriracha-themed events such as the annual Sriracha Festival in L.A, and the Electric Sriracha Festival in San Jose
There are dozens of fan-directed Sriracha events attended by thousands of people, and some are even sponsored by Huy Fong Foods. Fans go absolutely crazy when they get to meet and take photos with David Tran.