What’s Up with Huy Fong Sriracha?
A legal battle has led to accusations that rooster sauce isn’t as good as it used to be.
Fans of Huy Fong Sriracha might be too busy slathering rooster sauce over all of their favorite foods to worry about where this magical condiment comes from, but it turns out — since 2017, actually — all has not been right in rooster-land (a.k.a. California). After 28 years, Huy Fong split with its chili supplier, Underwood Ranches, a fact that has come to light as the two parties become embroiled in a bitter legal battle — and it’s even leading to questions about whether the break up has affected the quality of America’s best-known sriracha.
According to The Guardian, which reviewed court documents but were not able to get comments from either company, after the 2016 pepper harvest, Huy Fong Foods and Underwood Ranches were unable to renew their agreement, with Underwood alleging that Huy Fong was trying to lower costs by employing an odd legal workaround and attempting to steal Underwood’s chief operating officer in the process. Meanwhile, Huy Fong offered its take on Twitter back in March, writing, “Underwood Ranches, who had made high profits with its relationship with HF, decided to stop growing chili peppers for HF without any warning.”
Beyond basic bickering, Huy Fong reportedly sued Underwood for breach of contract, saying that company owed them $1.46 million and also asking for $7 million worth of equipment. Underwood apparently responded to that with a $20 million countersuit of its own.
But the real intrigue is happening on store shelves: Last year, Underwood Ranches launched its own sriracha and started taking shots at Huy Fong’s now non-Underwood-peppered product. “’The Pepper Makes the Product,’” Underwood Ranches wrote on Twitter. “Our peppers are the key ingredients to our spicy products. From jalapeños & cascabellas to serranos & Anaheims - 100% grown in California on our ranches in Ventura & Kern Counties. Without Underwood’s pepper, it’s just another condiment. #sriracha.”
That tweet is about as fiery as sriracha itself, but it also kind of undermines its own point. Clearly, Huy Fong Sriracha is still being sold, and if the sauce truly had gone downhill in any significant way since the change, don’t you think we would have heard about before now? Rooster sauce fans tend to be the outspoken type. So lawsuit aside, it would seem that, from a consumer perspective, this probably isn’t a big deal. (Unless, of course, you’ve noticed a change?) And remember, this isn’t the first time Huy Fong Foods has had to deal with a legal battle.
UPDATE 7/5/19: After two days of deliberation, on July 3, a civil jury in Ventura County Superior Court awarded Underwood Ranches $23.3 million in damages saying that Huy Fong broke its contract with the pepper grower and then subsequently committed fraud in the aftermath, according to the Ventura County Star. "We look forward to vindicating our rights on appeal," Huy Fong's lawyer, Erik Feingold, told the paper.