Louisiana claims birthright to one of the nation's hottest new food trends

Avery Island: Home of hot sauce

Don Ames
June 13, 2019 - 9:18 am

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal comes as no surprise to folks here in New Orleans. The Journal says spicy sauces are on fire. And, of course, the spark started right here in south Louisiana.
 
Tabasco sauce, from the salt dome that is Avery Island in Iberia Parish, is the earliest recognizable brand in the hot sauce industry, appearing in 1868. And, it's still a market leader, despite an explosion of competitors.
 
"The state of Louisiana has been the leader in hot sauce for a long time," says Harold Osborn, who was just named this week to the position of president and CEO of McIlhenny Company. "I mean, this is where spicy food in the U.S. was developed and the rest of the country is catching up." 
 
Tabasco's success, he says, is due in large part to consistency.
 
"We haven't altered the recipe at all, so, there's not a lot of change. We have upped our game, though. We make more sauce in a day now than my great-great-grandfather made in a lifetime.
 
Edmund McIlhenny created the original red pepper Tabasco sauce on Avery Island 150 years ago. That makes McIlhenny one of the U.S.’s oldest family-owned companies. The island was added to the National Register of Historic Places last year.
 
"We still age for three years in white oak barrels, Osborn says. "We use the old traditional vinegar that we've used for years. And the peppers are unique. We've been growing them on the island for a long time."
 
According to The Wall Street Journal, "Hot sauce is having a moment,"  having become one of the hottest food trends in America.
 
Big food companies have taken note. Hot sauces represent a profitable way to reach a younger, more diverse crowd than the shrinking base of customers for some familiar condiments and packaged foods that have fallen out of step with dining trends.
 
Retail sales of hot sauces jumped by almost a quarter over the past five years to about $700 million in 2018, the biggest gain among condiments, according to market-research firm Euromonitor.
 
And Osborn thinks he knows why.
 
"You know, people want their food to taste good. And they've finally figured out what we've known here in Louisiana for a long time. That spice, and especially Tabasco, really can help whatever food that you're eating taste better." 
 
"It doesn't really overpower anything that you're putting it on. It brings out the flavors of the food that's there. Others tend to go for the heat. We go for the spice. We want you to taste the food, not necessarily the Tabasco. It acts like a condiment. It really brings out the flavors."
 
Osborn worked in the Avery Island salt mine for the McIlhenny Co. when he was younger. 
 
Tabasco is now exported to 195 countries. 

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