Located on the idyllic Avery Island, Tabasco the brand and world-renowned hot sauce, first pioneered by the McIlhenny family, is not only surrounded by nature, but works with it. Working under their “the land has been good to us, so we’re good to it” policy, they capitalised on the fertile land of Avery Island. But this isn’t just a classic example of aggressive agricultural techniques destroying a natural landscape, Tabasco engages and has engaged in a plethora of activities to respect the land they use. Even in 1895 when faced with the news of the endangerment of the snow egret due to plume hunters, they actually created “Bird city” a bird sanctuary which contributed to that species being saved. In 1935 “Jungle Garden” was opened, absorbing “Bird City” and turning this region of Avery Island into the “Jungle Gardens”, showcasing a large variety of plants, tropical flora, and wildlife over the approximately 175-acre reserve. On a daily basis they work on replanting the marshes around the island, and operate with a nothing wasted approach. Some of these things were news to me, and were amazing to learn, leaving me with a warm feeling towards Tabasco, and not just because of their sauce! Respecting and maintaining their land whilst running a conglomerate operating in 180 countries worldwide, is something I believe a lot of other companies can look to replicate. The fame of this sauce cannot be understated, in fact it is “the number one hot sauce asked for by name worldwide”, this also means, in my eyes they have a lot of potential to be a leader in the condiment industry for change. Potentially being able to flagship a movement into more sustainable work practices. They have since 2010 reduced their water usage by 11%, and do offer strong diversity policies and worker training, but there is always more to do. I worry Tabasco aren’t pushing themselves to be a leader in the field of sustainability, with no obvious goals on the matter, or a mention of their product life cycle, there is room for some ingenuity and transparency from them.
Tabasco Original Red Pepper sauce is only made with three ingredients; aged red peppers, salt, and high-quality distilled vinegar. All of these three ingredients are sourced locally within 10-hour drive, the peppers are grown on Avery Island and in some farms in Latin America, the salt is also found on Avery Island, although there is no information on where their vinegar is sauced, just that it is “high-qulaity”. All of their products are certified non-GMO, although they do not state whether their peppers are grown organically. During the aging process oak barrels are used in the production process, before bottling into glass bottles inside carboarded boxes. The bottles are recyclable, and Tabasco have had an increase of 88% in their recycle rates since 2010. As a whole, I feel their product does well in regards to being sustainable, sourcing their or growing their own products locally, meaning very low carbon miles. Plus encouraging, and having a recyclable product is great. Not only this the product, unlike a lot of other condiments is healthy, being approximately 0 calories, and just containing a little sodium, it’s an easy way to add flavour to your meal and not the waist line. Right now, I think Tabasco are doing well, but there is room to do more, by becoming fully organic if they are not already, and maybe offering refill policies to businesses rather than creating new bottles.
Tabasco is mad from 3 ingredients, mashed tabasco peppers aged in oak barrels repurposed from Jack Daniels, salt found on Avery Island, and high-quality vinegar. The first step being picking the peppers, which is done by hand. Theses peppers used in their sauce are considered an “heirloom” by the McIlhenny family. These peppers are mashed the same day they are picked, just with a small amount of salt. When their peppers are mashed, they collect, dry and store the seeds ready for the next crop as a precautionary measure to natural disasters like any seed bank. The mashed peppers are stored in the oak barrels for up to 3 years, which is sealed air tight by a layer of compact salt. Before any barrel of peppers can be made into tabasco, it is inspected by a member of the McIlhenny family for quality. It is then combined with vinegar for a further 28 days, before being filtered. The sauce is then bottled, and shipped. This traditional recipe dates back to 1868, where it was developed by Edmund McIlhenny on Avery Island. Something that is easy to see is the emphasis on a quality consistent product. But also, the deliberate effort to source all of their ingredients locally, in fact “most materials they use are within a 10-hour delivery circle”. This means they can simultaneously cut costs and reduce their environmental impact when sourcing packaging and ingredients. They also make an effort to “recycle any production waste”, no examples were given on how they do this, bar how they bank their seeds. It would be interesting to hear more about the work here. or just more information in general on their sourcing and production process, especially in regards to the bottling methods.
The farms are said to be run by decedents of families who have been working for Tabasco for generations. Initially farming only took place on Avery Island, but after demand increased in the 1960’s, they expanded to some farms in Latin America which are still run by their multi-generational community of farmers. The peppers to this day are hand-picked, utilising a painted wooden dowl to ensure only peppers ripe enough are picked. Not only this a member of the McIlhenny family personally selects the best plants in the field during harvest, again ensuring a quality product. Workers are provided with “multi-year contracts guaranteeing a price per pound and estimated quantities”. The recycled seeds are provided freely again to the farmers, and are provided with agronomists to ensure the farming goes smoothly. I think it is interesting that the McIlhenny family still plays a role in the production so directly, inspecting barrels and plants for quality, emphasising the family nature of this business. Still being privately owned, and working with the same farmers for generations I think is great. They haven’t outsourced, but only relocated due to demand the only problem here is the additionally carbon miles. I would to see a little more transparency on a code of conduct for workers, how they’re paid, is it a living wage? or more? maybe mention worker rights and amenities they’re provided with. Without detail in the information of their staffing it’s hard to get a full picture here, making this available to the consumer is something that should and needs to be done.