Sriracha maker in hot dispute with Ventura County supplier over high-quality peppers

A multi-million dollar lawsuit has prompted a manufacturer of Sriracha to stop using the peppers it once advertised as a key, high-quality ingredient grown exclusively for the sauce maker.

Lovers of the popular hot sauce may not have noticed, but Huy Fong Foods is no longer using the jalapeños.

News of the change comes as Huy Fong Foods and Underwood Family Farms in Ventura County are suing each other.

"Economics. It is all economics," said Eric Feingold, lead attorney for Huy Fong Foods.

Huy Fong Foods' creator, David Tran, had touted Underwood Family Farms' peppers for nearly 30 years, saying that he was particular about his peppers and that the fruit and vegetable farm's product was the best. Then the cost of production went up, and Tran came to the conclusion that he was getting a raw deal.

"David Tran and Huy Fong Foods had to go into the open market, and they soon discovered they could buy the peppers for a lower price and better quality," Feingold said.

Tran gets fired up about his company. At one time, the City of Irwindale wanted his plant out because of its fume, but Tran prevailed.

"They can kill me, they cannot destroy my business," he said during the conflict.

Underwood Family Farms declined to comment on the latest lawsuit, but in court papers it claims that Huy Fong Foods violated a written and oral contract to buy Underwood Family Farms peppers and pay for its specialized harvesting equipment.

Huy Fong Foods said it overpaid Underwood $1.4 million before they parted ways, and now they want that money back.

Processing peppers became a pricey business for Huy Fong Foods. In court documents, the company says it paid Underwood $190 million between 2008 and 2016.

Huy Fong Foods is now purchasing the peppers on the open market for a lower cost.

Feingold said the change came nearly two years ago, and that Sriracha sales are still strong.

Meantime, the price to produce it is much easier to swallow.
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