American Taste Buds Are Burning

Anyone not familiar with Sriracha, or “rooster sauce”—as it’s known by many for the rooster outline on the bottle—just might be living under a rock.  This Asian style hot sauce is the new ketchup, making it’s way into kitchens and onto restaurant menus everywhere. It’s even been on The Simpsons.  And now this delicious condiment is about to enflame Los Angeles’s taste buds at a food festival where Sriracha takes center stage.

This festival for spicy lovers is coming right when we’re seeing a mainstream adoption of spicy food.  According to food manufacturer Kalsec, there has been a 38% increase in the number of food items in the US with spicy ingredients. And that's only in the last six months!

A recent New York Times article captures the reason behind the hot trend:

“For years, multinational food companies have been experimenting with ingredients, often being unable to find appeal broad enough to start or sustain a new brand. But as the buying power of Latino and Asian consumers expands, fruit flavors, hotter spices, different textures and grains and even packaging innovations are becoming essential for big food manufacturers trying to appeal to diverse appetites, according to company executives.”

Interestingly, Sriracha and it’s brethren ethnic hot sauces such as Tapatio, Cholula and Valentina, are seen as food flavors and not simply something that just burns your taste buds off.  Local L.A. chefs participating in the Sriracha Festival are marrying this fiery Asian sauce with a variety of ethnic cuisines, including Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese, to satisfy America’s craving for ethnic foods--and not simply to challenge people to some sort of masochistic experience (which is what brands like Tabasco have pushed in the past. Just pure heat and pain.)

At it's root, the cause of this--and similar trends--is the confluence of two factors: Millennials wanting to experience stuff from the fringes instead of the mainstream, and immigration from Asia. It's the perfect storm of trends that will continue to shape what brands grow and which will fall behind. (See Google Trend Chart). Sorry Tabasco!

(This insight is part of a larger 2013 Collider study on the evolution of food in America)