Tabasco for Any Requirement

Corporate chef and a steward of the brand, Jason Gronlund heats up palates worldwide with Tabasco.

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

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FP: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE MCIIHENNY CO.’S’ APPROACH TO MENU AND PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT?

JG: It’s a team concept. Basically, our teams talk to the customer’s teams; sales, marketing and R&D all work together. Our sales people talk to the customer’s purchasing department, our marketing talks to the customer’s marketing person and I’ll talk to R&D on the culinary side.

FP: HOW DOES PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT IN RETAIL VS. FOODSERVICE DIFFER?

JG: The demands are different from stovetop to kettle or line fill production. The needs may be different, but basically we want to make sure customers get what they need. As far as product development times, it can take from six months to 24 months for both foodservice and processing.

FP: WHY DOES TABASCO COST MORE THAN OTHER HOT SAUCES?

JG: I’ll be honest with you. If processors are looking just for heat impact, there are more cost efficient ways to add it. Our product adds flavors from fermentation and added chili, a much more unique flavor profile. When people ask us why we have the most expensive hot sauce, we like to put in perspective. We bring in pepper mash, put it into a barrel, and age it for up three years. Due to settling, we lose 30 to 40 percent during the aging process. It’s called the Angel’s share, the portion that evaporates through the barrel. We lose another 10 percent off the top since we have to peel off the sedimentation layer before it goes to processing. So we start with 200,000 pounds in 2007 and end up with 100,000 pounds in 2010. We sit on product for three years and lose 50 percent of it, so it begins to make sense why Tabasco may be more expensive. It’s not just because it’s an iconic brand. With all that said, we have a piquant flavor that no other sauce adds, as well as an aged oak note and fermented accent that no manmade flavoring can achieve. I always refer to us as more of a flavoring system than hot sauce. And no matter the development use, we can add subtle notes or the heat and lower-level usage you are looking for.

FP: DO CONSUMERS WANT TO SEE A BRAND NAME INGREDIENT USED IN THEIR FOODSERVICE SELECTION?

JG: Yes, if it’s connectable. If we’re doing a spicy burger or something Cajun it makes sense to consumers. And even though our flavor profile fits well into Asian products, there might be disconnect with the brand equity for the consumer. They might wonder why a Thai ginger dressing is made with Tabasco. Even though it works very well, some people haven’t made that quantum leap from topical hot sauce from Louisiana to world cuisine, but it is happening more and more. I was in China last year, and an Asian distributor asked why an American hot sauce would fit into their cuisine. Take away the brand name and manufacturing location, and think about the flavor profile. In Asian cooking, vinegar, fermented products, and chili peppers are used. That’s what we use. Tabasco has that fermented, vinegary flavor that is used in Korean Kimchi.

As corporate chef and many stewards of the brand at McIlhenny Co., I spend a lot of time helping people understand that Tabasco is a vertical, rather than a horizontal product. If you put it into a Latin or Asian dish, it won’t all of a sudden taste Cajun. Tabasco will blend in and become a component. On the flip side, if you use one of the traditional Buffalo Wing sauces, you use it at a higher level. People are used to that cayenne-based flavor in background.

FP: TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEW SWEET AND SPICY PEPPER DIPPING SAUCE.

JG: It’s more than just a dipping sauce. You will probably see it most often in casual dining applications. It’s a very unique spicy and gingery product, and when I did the first product demos, I made everything from salad dressing to candy (an almond crunch cluster) with it. It contains corn syrup, so I added more sugar and cooked it down to a soft ball consistency and blended it with toasted almonds and Chex. It’s really good.

FP: WHAT FLAVORS AND ETHNIC CUISINES DO YOU PREDICT WILL BE POPULAR IN THE NEAR FUTURE AND INFLUENCE MENU/PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT?

JG: Fifteen years ago, if you asked the consumer what Asian and Mexican foods were, they would have replied Sweet and Sour Pork and Fried Rice and Mexican Tacos and burritos. Now we have Brazilian churrascaria popping up all over the place. Everyone loves Cuban food and knows what a mojo marinade and mojito is. We all love Barbaco and carne asada. We’ve taken a huge leap toward bigger and bolder flavors.

Consumers have a thirst and hunger for better tasting food, with more impact that leaves them wowed. We keep taking all these steps forward with food and flavor profiles. I may be wrong because I never thought I’d see bell-bottoms again, but I don’t think consumers will ever say, ‘gee, I wish my food was bland and flavorless’ again. Everything today -- the pace we live at, the things we do, and the foods we eat -- has to be extreme, bigger and bolder.

FP: HOW DOES THE HISPANIC/LATIN CONSUMER DIFFER?

JG: The dynamics of the American family have changed so much. We used to eat together at home every night. Now, sitting down to a family meal is more of an occasion than commonplace. Today’s dynamic is such that both parents work so hard, but what they bring home pay wise might not be as important as the time they are losing with their kids. I admire the great work ethic and family values of the Hispanic consumer; they spend a lot of time together. They are used to eating at home, in fact they usually eat five dinners a week at home together, and still do most of their food shopping at retail rather than in restaurants. As they become more acclimatized, will their habits change? Only time will tell.

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