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Does sriracha ketchup mean we've hit peak sriracha?


Your foodie friends have all been eating sriracha for years. And you've probably seen it pop up in all sorts of unlikely places (beer and ice cream, for starters). Now it has finally, officially become ubiquitous. Heinz has announced that it will unveil a new sriracha-flavored ketchup this month, the Huffington Post reports. That's right: the popular, red, kind-of-sweet condiment is being absorbed into that other popular, red, kind-of-sweet condiment.

Sriracha has followed the quintessential path of any major food trend, from chia seeds to cupcakes: starting out with a small but devoted following, gaining momentum in niche products, with major food companies at long last latching onto it long after it was cool, while it's still trendy enough to inspire fandom but also with a broad enough appeal to be profitable.

Interestingly, David Sax wrote almost presciently about this for Vox last July:

"What was once the preoccupation of epicures and gourmands has now become everyday popular culture, as cupcake bakeries continue to pop up in the heartland, and once-obscure flavors, like Thailand's Sriracha hot sauce, become as familiar as Heinz ketchup in our pantries," Sax wrote.

Sax's entire essay is worth a read, but this quote is key to understanding how a Fortune 500 company like Heinz decides to put sriracha into its signature product: "On the one hand, [big food companies] want to be cutting edge, but on the other, they need to stay safe enough that they won't squander millions of dollars on what turns out to be a quickly passing fad. They don't jump into food trends lightly."

Big food companies want to keep our attention with exciting new offerings, Sax says, but they don't want to make a wrong step. After all, the gelato place down the street might look a little silly and lose day or two of work (and, of course, a few gallons' worth of ingredients) if it makes some disastrous sriracha gelato. But for a company Heinz's size, putting a new product out there involves market research, focus groups, advertising, and of course lots of money.

The question, then, is how long this particular trend will last — if sriracha is more than a passing fad, sriracha ketchup could become a mainstay for Heinz. However, as Sax also points out, trendy foods are arising and then disappearing faster and faster all the time. Cupcakes are already dying a slow death, after all. It's easy to imagine that Sriracha could be close behind. (Or maybe it's just time for a batch of sriracha cupcakes.)

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