People using hot sauce to spice up their food may find it in short supply this summer, and maybe longer.
Southern California based Huy Fong Foods, Inc. sent a letter to customers in April warning that it would suspend filling orders for products including Chili Garlic, Sambal Oelek, and Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce until at least Labor Day due to a shortage of chili pepper inventory caused by drought in the western United States and the ongoing labor shortage.
"Unfortunately, this is out of our control, and without this essential ingredient, we are unable to produce any of our products," the company said in an April 19 letter to customers. "Therefore, all orders submitted after April 19, 2022, will be scheduled after Labor Day."
The company said it understood the issues that would be caused, but it did not have the inventory to fill orders before September.
"We are still endeavoring to resolve this issue that has been caused by several spiraling events, including unexpected crop failure from the spring chili harvest," the company's management told The Washington Post for its story Thursday. "We hope for a fruitful fall season and thank our customers for their patience and continued support during this difficult time."
The issue appears to be twofold, with both a western drought and the ongoing labor shortage spurred during the COVID-19 pandemic causing a low crop yield and not enough workers to harvest fast enough what did grow.
USA Today reported Friday that the company gets most of its chili peppers used in the sauces from farms in California, New Mexico and Mexico, where drought conditions and high temperatures are hurting the region's agricultural industry.
The U.S. Drought Monitor reported that as of June 7, "Widespread severe to exceptional drought persists throughout much of the Southwest, Great Basin, and California. Hydropower production concerns at reservoirs in California and Nevada continue due to low water levels."
But it's not just the weather causing the crop harvest problem; a shortage of workers is also impacting the chili pepper market.
As far back as August 2020, there are reports of labor shortages impacting the amount of chili peppers harvested in the region.
"We can see that coronavirus has affected our industry," La Reina Chile Co. owner Andrea Alvarez told New Mexico's La Cruces Sun-News in August 2020. "I'm experiencing it on my side where we're trying to run the automated line and trying to package the chili, but the chili has to sit because we don't have enough people to work."
The shortage is not only being felt by consumers; it is also being felt by restaurants that use the products in their own spicy sauces,
The Post reported a sushi restaurant in Kentucky posted a message on Facebook to let patrons know it would have to ration the amount of the popular hot sauce it served on the side of meals because it also plays a part in the establishment's own spicy mayo sauce.
"Since it also plays a key role in our house-made Spicy Mayo, we will start to limit 1 free Spicy Mayo per 2 rolls until we secure our resources," read the note from Brady's Sushi and Hibachi in Richmond. "Thank you for your cooperation and understanding during these challenging times."
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