Sunday, November 12, 2023

The Great Sriracha Shortage of 2023

Running your company into the ground seems to be the latest thing.

I was not aware of the great Sriracha shortage that has been going on for a few years now.  We had a few bottles in the pantry and quite frankly, we don't use it as much as other hot sauces.  The Huy Fong brand has sugar in it (as all Sriracha sauces do) and is kind of sweet.   Still, it is good.  So when we went to Walmart and found it nowhere on the shelves (or even a place for it) we were puzzled.

Mark recalled reading about a shortage and I pulled out my phone and looked it up.  Apparently, the Huy Fong people had an exclusive contract to buy peppers from one supplier in "the valley" and they got into a dispute over payment.  Huy Fong sued and won $1.5 million.  The supplier counter-sued and won over $20 million.  Not only that, he isn't supplying peppers to Huy Fong anymore and due to the drought, the company is scrambling to find alternative souces.

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!  The sauce is still selling, online, for as much as $25 a bottle.  No thanks.  When prices go up, consumers can - and should - seek out alternatives, including not consuming at all.  There are plenty of hot sauces out there, with Valentina in the quart bottle being one of the best bargains.  But in terms of Sriracha sauces, there are many to choose from, including Lee Kum Lee, which makes a nice Sriracha (as well as any other kind of Asian sauces!) for $3.98 at WalMart.  And you know what?  I like it better than Huy Fong.  It doesn't taste so sweet, so I am guessing they put less sugar in it.

So, now I have a new Sriracha friend, and I never would have bothered to search for it, had Huy Fong not driven me to their competitor.  They shot themselves in the foot, twice here.

Now, some folks complain about inflation and post messages about how they paid $8 for a bag of chips.  By paying that amount, you validate that as an acceptable price - as I noted before.  Complaining about high prices is stupid, if you still pay them.  It is like the guy with the gas-guzzler who whines about high gas prices, but won't ever look at a more fuel-efficient vehicle as an alternative. 

And seriously, 50% of pickup truck owners don't "need" a pickup truck to drive to work in.   I say this from authority - we live on a retirement island and about 1/3 of the retired men here have pickup trucks - big ones - that they use to drive to the golf course or the grocery store.  Maybe once in a while they go to the lumber yard, but hey, the lumber yard has free delivery and there is something called a roof-rack you can put on your car.

But I digress.

Eventually, the financial pain gets bad enough that people seek out alternatives, but not before bitching and moaning and crying for government intervention.  "We demand cheap gas!" they cry, and politicians cave in to this, in part because the oil companies know that if they play this game too long, people will actually buy fuel-efficient cars, or worse yet, electric ones.

So they tease us, raising and lowering gas prices.  Jacking them up to make a quick profit, and then just before Bubba decides to trade-in his jacked-up diesel dually quad-cab long-bed 1-ton RAM, they lower prices again.  Bubba figures that the crises is over and since he has the memory of a goldfish, he acts shocked when prices go up yet again (and blames the Democrats, of course!).  Funny thing, gas prices have dropped in recent months, but the "I did that!" Biden stickers seem to have disappeared.

But I digress yet again.

$25 for a bottle of hot sauce (some sources say $50 or more!) isn't feasible.  Maybe Huy Fong thinks they can make their product into a luxury brand - sold in crystal decanters (pardon the pun) and proudly displayed prominently in upscale kitchens (I am sure it is already being done).  And like clockwork, the folks who will pay that will not be the very rich, but the lower classes who want the trappings of wealth.  "Look at me!  I can afford fancy hot sauce!"

If that is the plan, I think it will backfire.  Because more people like myself will just shop for an alternative and find it - and like it better.  There is really no "shortage" of Sriracha sauce, just a shortage of one brand because the company pissed-off its sole supplier of peppers.  And even then, the supply is increasing, but some folks are still over-paying for the product in a classic "overshoot" that happens in economics due to hysteresis.  What we learned from the pandemic is that if you tell people there is a shortage, they will snap up products they had no intention of buying in the first place.  Clever marketing!

But there is no real shortage, just poor management.  Running your company into the ground seems to be a new trendy thing to do.  It ain't just Twitter!  Take a company that is doing well, make some bonehead decisions, lose a big chunk of your customer base, lose boatloads of money, lose countless lawsuits, profit!

I am not sure that is a viable plan in the long run.