I think this product deserves a fairly good review on its sustainability. I think the most impressive thing is their ingredient list, with the majority of ingredients being naturally-derived, and their traditional harvesting process which is still done by hand. My biggest critique is the lack of transparency surrounding the conditions of the SANE production facility in Chapala.
Cholula’s Original Hot Sauce lists 7 ingredients on the nutrition label: Water, Peppers (Arbol and Piquin), Salt, Vinegar, Garlic Powder, Spices, and Xanthan Gum. The recipe is said to be more than 100 years old that requires a delicate process. The arbol and piquin peppers are ground into a paste and combined with signature spices, resulting in a flavorful and zesty hot sauce. Xanthan gum is the only ingredient listed that is not naturally derived, and there is some uncertainty surrounding whether or not this ingredient should be in food products. It is a popular food additive that helps to stabilize, thicken, and emulsify to provide the desirable body and flavor release. It is made of sugar that has undergone bacterial fermentation. Because these sugars may come from a variety of sources it is not possible to know if xanthan gum is truly vegan. The FDA considers xanthan gum to be safe for consumption as a food additive. Whether xanthan gum is considered to be a “clean label” ingredient has been debated. The USDA lists xanthan gum as one of several synthetic ingredients allowed in organic products. I have found that this ingredient is difficult to avoid. Although it has an alarming name, research from food safety organizations around the world has concluded it is safe for consumption. The easiest way to know whether a given product that contains xanthan gum is vegan friendly is to select products marked as suitable for vegans. Cholula’s website gives a vegan label for all its hot sauces.
The hot sauce is packaged in a glass bottle with a wooden cap. After removing the cap, the glass bottle can be recycled by facilities. The Cholula website also shares other creative ways to reuse the bottle and cap. For example, customers have used the wooden cap and glass bottle as vases, pencil holders, wind chimes, soap dispensers, tiny pet water bowls, or cap charm bracelets. I think this is a fun way that Cholula encourages repurposing used containers.
Cholula is made with a blend of 80% arbol peppers and 20% piquin peppers. It takes a total of 11 months to grow these peppers, and nearly 90% of them originate in Jalisco. The process of harvesting is generational, it has not been industrialized and everything is still done by hand. The water used for the plants is drawn from the local wells in the fields and is free of heavy metals. After the peppers are hand-picked they are carefully washed and laid out in the natural sun to dry out. Then they are sent to the Cholula’s only production facility, SANE, in Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico. Because of the humidity and the spice in the air of the factory, workers wear FDA-approved suits, surgical masks, and even gas masks.
I did not find any information about the working conditions in these factories, aside from the creation process and the gear worn by factory workers. This was disappointing considering Cholula prides itself on its recipe and authentic process that has been continued on for generations. I was hoping they would shed some light on what that process looks like.
Cholula Hot Sauce was made for three generations, allegedly by the Harrison family of Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico. The matriarch of the family, Camilla Harrison, is rumored to be the famous face on the Cholula label. The hot sauce was used primarily as an ingredient in a drink called sangrita. After the hot sauce became popular across the Mexican market, Cholula was then distributed throughout supermarket chains in Southwest America, beginning in Austin, Texas in 1989. The hot sauce is now sold in over 20 countries internationally.
In November of 2020 McCormick & Company Inc. acquired Cholula Hot Sauce® for $800 million in cash. McCormick sources raw materials from all across the globe and they have many commitments to sustainable sourcing. Their multi-stakeholder partnerships with global organizations to increase farmer and community resilience. While McCormick’s acquirement of Cholula is fairly recent I think the partnership makes sense because of McCormick’s expertise in herbs and spices. McCormick is working diligently to integrate sustainability permanently into the business, which I find unique for such a successful multi-national corporation. While they have not met all their goals yet, they have laid out plans to sustainably source raw materials within a traceable supply chain and have made an agreement with energy company Constellation to buy renewable energy from a solar center located in Virginia. I am curious how McCormick will retrofit Cholula’s manufacturing process and I hope it is something they share publicly.