Dec. 12, 2013 -- Is a hot sauce shortage looming? The California maker of Sriracha, already under fire for odors from its plant, has been told it must wait 30 days until it can ship its popular hot sauce to distributors, according to the California Department of Public Health.
As a result, sauce suppliers will not be able to restock until mid-January, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Last month, a judge ruled the Huy Fong Foods factory in Irwindale must stop its chili pepper crushing operations that have reportedly caused odors and led to some community complaints.
Previously a niche product found in Asian restaurants and grocery stores, Sriracha sauce has skyrocketed into the national media headlines in part due to Irwindale's lawsuit against the company. Subway sandwich restaurant chain introduced Subway Sriracha Chicken Melt this year. Earlier, Trader Joe's released "Trader Joe's Sriracha Sauce" with a dragon instead of the company's trademark rooster on the plastic bottle.
The California Department of Public Health said Huy Fong Foods' three sauces, Sriracha, Chili Garlic and Sambal Oelek, must be held for at least 30 days before they can be shipped to food distributors and wholesalers for "effective treatment of microorganisms," the Associated Press reported.
The Department of Public Health didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Huy Fong Foods is prominently in the public spotlight and both customers will be watching closely to see how they respond, said Chris Malone, co-author of The HUMAN Brand: How We Relate to People, Products & Companies.
"Their words and actions will reveal a lot about who they are and what they care about, which greatly impacts customer loyalty and public opinion," Malone said.
Huy Fong Foods CEO David Tran has remained mostly out of the spotlight, but Malone said the recent media attention is a "golden opportunity for him to show that Huy Fong places the best interests of its customers and community ahead of its own short-term profits."
On Nov. 8, Tran issued a one-page statement defending his company and its production in light of Irwindale's legal complaint.
"After the odor complaints from last year, I believed the City of Irwindale acted severely toward us without a real investigation into the matter," Tran wrote. "I felt that the city just took action without any real reason, which gave me an odd feeling."
Tran signed his statement: David D. Tran, CEO
p.s. we don't make tear gas here.
Malone said the lost sales from the 30 day hold on product shipments will eventually pass, but the memory of how the company handled its recent challenges will last "for years or perhaps even decades."
Fans of the chili pepper-based hot sauce have already reacted to a feared shortage.
"We have already received more than 30 angry phone calls today," Damon Chu of Asian food supplier Giant Union told the Los Angeles Times. "It drives me crazy because this is the first time we have been in this situation."
Huy Fong Foods did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Chu said the disruption could cost him as much as $300,000 in lost business, and he has no excess supplies because Huy Fong ships the sauce as it is bottled, the Times reported.
Malone said he recommends Tran "make clear through public words and actions that Huy Fong places the health and welfare of its customers above all other priorities."
Even though the recent shipping hold may not seem warranted to some fans, Malone recommends the company both embrace the judge's ruling and pledge to abide by all state laws. Issuing an apology to customers and distributors for the inconvenience and financial impact, despite that the shortage is not really their fault, "would go a long way toward building and maintaining lasting relationships with them," Malone said.
Malone also said the company should pledge to do whatever it takes to resolve the Irwindale odor concerns before next year's pepper grinding season.
"There may be some incremental costs associated with being a good citizen in the local community, but they pale in comparison to the damage that can be done to the company's good reputation if they are widely viewed to care only about themselves," he said.