Sriracha makers to begin talks with Texas Dept. of Agriculture

Sriracha tour

Credit: WFAA

Texas Rep. Jason Villalba and other Texas officials visited the Sriracha hot sauce factory in Southern California on May 12, 2014 to entice the company to move its operations to Texas.

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by JASON WHITELY

Bio | Email | Follow: @jasonwhitely

WFAA

Posted on May 13, 2014 at 12:38 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 13 at 12:44 PM

IRWINDALE, Calif. – Huy Fong Foods, the makers of the iconic Sriracha hot sauce, will begin discussions with the Texas Department of Agriculture to determine whether the company’s hybrid jalapeno can be grown in the Lone Star State.

“This is a very serious endeavor. I think expansion into Texas for Huy Fong Foods is more likely than not within the next three to five years,” said State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, who led a delegation to California on Monday.
 
Business is growing almost 20 percent a year for Huy Fong Foods, officials said.

David Tran, the founder of Huy Fong Foods, said it’s doubtful he will move his existing factory from the Los Angeles area, but he wants to expand and build a new flagship facility.
 
That’s why Villalba visited with a team of other elected officials, including State Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, and State Rep. Hubert Vo, R-Houston.
 
Texas wants the expansion plant. But the big question is can Texas grow the hybrid jalapenos required for Huy Fong Foods?
 
Tran agreed to find out and will send over a team of his farmers to investigate and begin discussions with the Texas Department of Agriculture.
 
“They have to check climate and soil, wind speeds and water conditions -- all those things to make sure they are absolutely certain that they can continue to replicate the success in Texas that they have here,” Villalba added.
 
Chiles for Huy Fong Foods are currently grown in Southern California. Farmers planted 25,500 plants over 2,000 acres in 17 fields last year, said Jim Roberts with Underwood Ranches, who grows the peppers for the company.
 
Tran originally purchased peppers from Mexico in the late 1980s before moving the farming to California and perfecting his pepper.
 
They are mashed within six hours of harvest, Roberts added, for freshness.
 
If production moves to Texas, Roberts said, his team probably would as well.
 
An expansion plant would likely go in San Antonio or the Rio Grande Valley, Villalba said, and could bring several hundred factory and farming jobs. The existing factory in Irwindale employs 80 people full-time and another 100 people during harvest.
 
Tran is talking to other states about expanding after a fight with the local city hall.
 
On Wednesday, the Irwindale City Council decides whether to declare Huy Fong Foods a public nuisance. A handful of people complained it emits spicy odors that burned their eyes and throats. But when News 8 spent an hour inside the hot sauce factory on Monday, there was no spicy odor and workers don’t even wear masks.
 
Tran’s story is the American dream. He fled Vietnam in the late 1970s, started Huy Fong Foods with family savings, and named his company after the freighter that moved him to America.
 
“If I can build jobs in the U.S.,” Tran said. “I will.”
 
Texas is the first state to make the pitch, but others are expected to follow.
 
“Boston isn’t the place to grow chile,” Tran added. “Texas is.”
 
It’s far from a done deal, but an encouraging first step led by a freshman legislator.
 
E-mail: jwhitely@wfaa.com

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