In the United States, Huy Fong’s Sriracha may be best known as a condiment for Vietnamese noodle soup; but when it comes to the numbers, Sriracha is as American as ketchup and mayonnaise. According to a viral Twitter thread by The Hustle tech writer Trung Phan, the sauce does a whopping $150 million a year in revenue — without any apparent marketing, advertising, or sales team.
In his 22-part thread, Phan also dives deep into the humble, bootstrapped origins of the sauce. Tran, who was born in Vietnam, fled the country with his family in 1978 onboard a Taiwanese ship called the Huey Fong, meaning “Gathering Prosperity.” Nodding to his roots, Tran decided to name his company Huy Fong Foods.
According to Thrillist, Tran’s original recipe for Sriracha — including vinegar, sugar, salt, garlic, and chilis — was inspired by a Thai chili paste from the town of Si Racha (hence the name). Some decades earlier, a home cook named Thanom Chakkapak had created the sauce, which became widely known. Living in California, Tran swapped chilis for local red-grown jalapeños.
When he started his business, Tran filled recycled baby food jars and sold his sauces out of a Blue Chevy Van. He made $2300 in his first month. As his following grew, he sold directly to other immigrant restaurateurs along the California coast.
With no prior knowledge on branding, Tran slapped a rooster logo on everything he was selling — solely because he was born in 1945, the year of the rooster. He also designed Sriacha’s signature squeeze bottle with a green cap, as a “sign of freshness.”
In the mid-2000s, Sriracha experienced its real star moment, appearing on grocery store shelves all over America. Growing awareness about Vietnamese food increased demand for production, pushing Tran to upgrade his manufacturing across Chinatown LA, Rosemond, CA, and Irwindale, CA.
What was unexpected is the fact that he was able to bag millions in revenue without spending anything on ads. How? Well… Tran’s has mostly maintained the same 10 distributors and wholesale pricing from the 80s, with no sales team. They’ve depended entirely on “word of mouth,” rather than ads.
Tran’s Sriracha hit $150 million in annual revenue in 2019, representing 10% of the entire hot sauce market in the US. And that’s saying a lot, considering that hot sauce is one of the fastest-growing condiments in America. Another unexpected fact is that Tran never trademarked the name “Sriracha,” though he did obtain trademarks for his signature green cap and rooster logo.
"I never worry about (other brands) because we're too busy making it. I can't make enough of my product to meet the demand, so let them have it and work together for the consumer,” Tran shared in an interview with Bloomberg. And considers it “free advertising” when other brands use the name sriracha.
Because of this massive success, investors have been courting Tran for decades. But Tran doesn’t care about the money — to him, Sriracha is "a rich man's sauce at a poor man's price.” That’s why he caps his retailer selling prices at less than $10. Meanwhile, his competitors are charging three times that.
In 2013, Tran told the Los Angeles Times: “My American Dream was never to become a billionaire. We started this because we like fresh, spicy chili sauce.” If there’s one thing we can learn from this immigrant success story, it’s that staying true to yourself does pay off.