It’s Getting Hot (Sauce) in Here

By Aaron Paitich


Lather up that burrito, douse those eggs, soak that pizza. Baste those wings, layer that sandwich, and spice that bloody mary.

Had enough yet? Feeling … hot?

Now that your engines are roaring, let’s talk a little bit about hot sauce, and its stranglehold over the American people—nay, the world. For many, that’s what hot sauce is all about: tasting new and exotic cultures and cuisines from around the world or finding the right sauce to remind you of home and heritage.

Marketing executive Ted Chung told Fast Company that his hot-sauce decision-making process is “… something I take very personally and spiritually.”

Whoa. Right on, Ted.

But it’s not that serious of a connection for everyone. Many just love the taste—and we’re consuming it in record amounts. There are hot sauce festivals, expos, and documentaries. There’s a National Hot Sauce Day (Jan. 22) and there’s hot sauce swag.

It’s become more than just a condiment in a college student’s fridge. Hot sauce is now a billion-dollar industry.

Can marketing agencies learn from the hot sauce explosion? Let’s take a look at strategies from some of the better-known brands:

Frank’s RedHot: You’ve seen their TV commercials, but Frank’s RedHot also sends an email newsletter to its fans. They publish recipes, promote contests, and use coupons to engage consumers. But it’s the tagline that’s brilliant: “I put that $#!* on everything.” It’s not only edgy and relatable; it encourages you to try and incorporate Frank’s RedHot into every meal you eat. The more you consume, the more you buy.

Tapatío: Tapatío has a nice collection of recipes, merchandise, and a detailed brand history online. They’ve built up a nice following on Facebook and Instagramand communicate consistently and creatively on those platforms.

Sriracha: The rooster is everywhere. Huy Fong’s Sriracha became so popular that other brands wanted to infuse their products with it—potato chips, popcorn, vodka, and beef jerky, to name a few. You can also buy Sriracha socks, water bottles, lip balm, hoodies, coffee mugs—you name it. All of this without … marketing? While Sriracha claims it doesn’t rely on marketing, that doesn’t mean they’re right, according to marketing automation expert Alp Mimar:

“Just because Huy Fong didn’t rely on marketing doesn’t mean content marketing and marketing automation aren’t enormously important. They had to wait 20 years before their hot sauce really picked up, and another 10 before it finally blew up. That’s the cost of not relying on any marketing—lots of lost time. Had David Tran seen the value of marketing back when he started making his millions, he could have grown Huy Fong much faster, and the hot sauce giant could be 10 times bigger than it is today.”

Cholula: Cholula publishes and promotes recipes on their website, through social media, and with an email newsletter. They’ve also developed a ground game, the Flavor First Tour, which sends a caravan across cities throughout the U.S., and they partner with other brands including Live Nation to be a part of the concert scene.

Tabasco: Tabasco possesses a large chunk of the hot sauce market, but that hasn’t stopped them from continuing to market their product hard. Contests, recipes, email newsletters, and social media are all emphasized heavily. But they’ve even taken hot-sauce storytelling to a new level with a recent video, Avery Island. The video brings the viewer into the home of Tabasco and plays the farm-to-table, family owned, environmentally responsible cards to consumers. Who knew that would be so important to a company that makes hot sauce?

Tabasco wants consumers to feel like they are a part of the family. They want you to believe they care about more than just the bottom line, but they care about the environment, the world, and you.

When it comes to thinking about your brand and your audience, which hot sauce strategy seems more effective to you?