Huy Fong,the company that makes the popular Sriracha sauce, is an enviable success story. Despite a host of imitators, it has seen its sales increase dramatically and it currently bottles and sells more than 12 million bottles of its sauces every year. It has done this without any advertising, relying on the excellence of its product to generate sales through word of mouth. While copycat manufacturers don’t seem to trouble Huy Fong’s founder David Tran, the company’s recent move to new manufacturing facilities in Irwindale, an L.A. suburb, has created a giant headache for it.
Until about two years ago, Huy Fong used a 68,000 sq.ft. manufacturing facility at Rosemead. However, increasing demand for its sauces led it to expand to a brand new, custom designed 650,000 sq.ft facility in nearby Irwindale. The move was made after the city of Irwindale offered Huy Fong tax breaks and other incentives to move there. Initially, it seemed to be a win-win situation since the move generated 50 fulltime jobs plus another 60 temporary jobs during the peak production season. To give some idea of the scale of the operations, over 500 tons of red jalapenos are trucked in daily during the 12 week season from September to December and are immediately crushed and mixed with garlic , vinegar, salt and sugar to make the sauce.
All went well until some Irwindale residents complained that fumes from the processing of the jalapenos were causing burning eyes, headaches and scratchy throats. They also complained of the pungent odors from the plant.They took their complaints to court and the matter went back and forth before the judge ordered a temporary shutdown of the plant and told Huy Fong to cease odor causing operations as of December 2013.
On the face of it, this seems an entirely reasonable solution. However, there are several inconsistencies in the story.
For instance, while there were three complaints about noxious odors, it was not determined where the odors were emanating from or what was causing them. The state agency which plays the lead role in declaring odors a public nuisance did not issue any violations to Huy Fong. One person commenting on the news story wrote to say” I work half a block from this place and me and my co-workers haven’t noticed any odors.” Recently, Huy Fong invited residents and others to tour the facility and provided golf carts for them to do so. Hundreds of them have taken the tour and have been invited to file reports of any odors they encountered. The news story doesn’t explicitly say so but it does not seem there were any. I find it interesting that it was the son of an Irwindale city councilman who was a leader in the complaint movement. Mere coincidence or …?
Huy Fong has been told to work with South Coast Air Quality Management District and address the issue of the odors. The Public Health Department has also enforced stricter guidelines and has ordered the company to hold the freshly bottled sauce for thirty days before shipping it. This last requirement is mystifying. Odors occur when the peppers are being processed and the sauce is being manufactured. Once the sauce is bottled, no more odors will escape into the air. What is the point of delaying the shipping?
I really wonder at the residents complaints about odors. Huy Fong has been manufacturing its sauces at its Rosemead facility for the past 30 years without problems with neighbors, as far as I know. In fact, it is still continuing to manufacture there. Surely the Irwindale councilors must have paid a visit there before they decided to offer the company incentives to move to their city. Didn’t they notice any noxious fumes while they were in the Rosemead facility? The Irwindale factory is a newer, state-of-the art facility. I find it impossible to believe that their filtration system is inferior to the one at the Rosemead location.
To put the situation in perspective, dogfood factories, meatpacking plants, feedlots, pig farms, coke plants and chemical plants generate lots of noxious odors and even dust. I cannot believe that a hot sauce factory is more odorous than them. If the neighbors of those other factories can bear to live with the stench, why can’t Irwindale manage to live with the factory which it inveigled to come and start operations in its town ?
It is impossible to arrive at the “truth” merely by reading newspaper articles, many of which are incomplete and leave many questions unanswered. In my opinion, though, Huy Fong is getting a raw deal and I hope it prevails.