Pepper, spice shortage raises concern for N.B. businesses

·3 min read
Spicy Boys owner Dylan Gaudet said the shortage came at the worst time for his company. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC - image credit)
Spicy Boys owner Dylan Gaudet said the shortage came at the worst time for his company. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC - image credit)

A shortage of hot peppers and spices around the globe is starting to hit businesses close to home.

Dylan Gaudet, the owner of Fredericton-based hot sauce company Spicy Boys, said his three best-selling hot sauces are all at risk due to a shortage of peppers in California.

The pepper shortage is due to drought that caused even the large Southern California-based Huy Fong Inc. to temporarily halt production of its well-known sriracha sauce.

Gaudet said pepper prices rose about 30 per cent just a couple of weeks ago, but the situation is now looking even more dire.

"Now it's really starting to impact us," he said. "It's a combination of a huge problem and terrible timing."

He placed an order for peppers on Tuesday, stocking up for the company's busiest season.

But he received a call Wednesday from his local food supplier telling him all transportation for hot peppers was on hold and there was no estimated arrival date.

Gaudet said he went searching for larger distributors, but was quoted inflated prices.

Red Thai peppers are $30 per pound, up from $5 a pound. Ghost peppers now cost nearly $180 per pound, up from about $11 per pound.

 Mrinali Anchan/CBC
Mrinali Anchan/CBC

"We use eight pounds to make a batch … so we would lose money making the sauce," said Gaudet.

"I didn't really expect it would affect us that much … but it's really starting to put a damper on things now."

He said the company uses the scotch bonnet pepper for a popular sauce, but he has no idea when he'll be able to obtain more of it.

"We have enough to make one more batch, but after that we're really not sure where things are going to go," said Gaudet, "I'm completely in the dark right now."

He said one batch usually lasts one week.

Gaudet said summer is the busiest season for Spicy Boys, so this situation couldn't have happened at a worse time.

Mrinali Anchan/CBC
Mrinali Anchan/CBC

If the shortage continues, Gaudet said the company will only have two or three sauces to sell.

He said extensive testing and licensing is required before launching a new product, so trying to create new sauce recipes isn't a plausible alternative.

Gaudet said some local food trucks, including Dee's Quiet Café, use his company's products and they will all be impacted as well.

Spices also hard to get

Authentic Jamaican food vendor Cook Wi A Cook has had to pull certain dishes off of the menu from time to time due to a shortage of spices.

Owner Troy Munn said he's had trouble obtaining large amounts of authentic curry that he imports from Jamaica.

Mrinali Anchan/CBC
Mrinali Anchan/CBC

"It's had a big impact.… It's an extra thing to acquire it and sometimes that even fails, and it's a key ingredient in my seasoning," said Munn. "Without the key ingredient, the business can't really work."

Munn said he's had to drive across the province to find even small amounts of the spice, which he says is becoming less feasible with the rise in gas prices.