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This summer may be bland with shortage of sriracha hot sauce

A severe shortage of chili peppers that has affected the most popular sriracha hot sauce brand is concerning many York Region restaurants, grocery stores
Cirsty Aguilar, supervisor of Mr. and Mrs. Bao in Vaughan, is making baos with the last bottle of sriracha hot sauce in the store.

A shortage of sriracha hot sauce made by the California-based Huy Fong Foods — which is one of the most popular hot sauces — has many worried it could be a dull summer this year.

“Due to weather conditions affecting the quality of chili peppers, we are facing a severe shortage of chili,” states a letter from Huy Fong Foods to wholesale buyers. “Unfortunately, this is out of our control and without this essential ingredient, we are unable to produce any of our products include Chili Garlic, Sambal Oelek, and Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce.”

The chain reaction resulting from the halt in production of sriracha has affected many Asian restaurants and grocery stores in York Region.

Sherry Li, owner of Eastern Restaurant, a Chinese cuisine restaurant in east Markham, said she is running out of sriracha chili sauce.

“About a month ago, I could only get sriracha hot sauce in small packages from the supplier because the big barrels have been out of stock,” Li added, “and the price has risen by at least 30 per cent.”

This has had a big impact on her takeaway business. Now, she gives only one small packet of chili sauce with each order unless strongly requested, and she doesn't expect the current inventory in the store to last much longer.

Li’s experience is not unique, as restaurant chains Mr. and Mrs. Bao and Freshii are also being challenged by the shortage of sriracha hot sauce.

Many of Julia Hou’s dishes rely heavily on the chili sauce. She runs three restaurant brands, including Mr. and Mrs. Bao in Vaughan, and a continued lack of supplies of sriracha could be a blow to her business, she said.

“We are trying to replace it with other brands of condiments due to the shortage, but customers can tell,” said Ashmeet Saluja, supervisor of Freshii in Markham. “We’ve received complaints over the past few weeks because sriracha is at the top of their list of favourite chili sauces.”Another problem Saluja pointed out is that the chili sauce similar in price to sriracha is not as tasty as it is, and higher-quality chili sauces increase the cost. Therefore, she thinks that finding suitable substitutes will not happen any time soon.

Based on Huy Fong’s announcement, all orders submitted on or after April 19 will be scheduled after Labour Day in the order they were received. Additionally, for customers who had been provided with a purchase order and had not yet received confirmation, they would also be on hold until September.

Wei Su, manager of Sunny Foodmart’s grocery department, said the sriracha chili sauce shelves in his supermarket were empty and there was no stock left. Another Chinese supermarket in Markham, Foodymart HWY7, still has a small amount of stock, but their supply has been cut off for a long time.

“I'm not sure how long the existing stock will last, all the sriracha chili sauces are already on the shelves. We don't have a limit on purchases. Maybe someone will come and wipe them out and there will be no bottles left,” said Jessica Chen, store manager of Foodymart, adding that other brands of chili sauce, both Asian and local, are well-stocked.

Given the high possibility that sriracha will not be available this entire summer, many restaurants are starting to look into making their own.

According to Cirsty Aguilar, supervisor of Mr. and Mrs. Bao, they have obtained some recipes and made their own chili sauces for customers to choose from.

Li also indicates that when her sriracha supplier is ready to take orders again, she will restock in bulk. But until then, she’ll be making her own chili sauce to keep the business going, and while it may take her more time and energy to do so, at least diners don't have to worry.