The McIlhenny Company has done a great job at pushing itself to be as sustainable as realistically possible, whilst still encroaching on ‘world domination’ with their delicious hot sauces! They are transparent about and effectively promote their sustainability efforts, information on product/production processes, and non-profit efforts.
Not only is their product quite sustainable (and hence their world domination can at least mean they seek to reduce or not add to the already-growing global emissions/waste piles), but they seek to conserve Louisiana’s coastlines and flora/fauna through marsh regeneration work and conservation efforts on Avery island via their ‘Jungle Gardens’, “a 170-acre semitropical garden [and wildlife refuge where] naturalists, bird watchers, and visitors [can see] alligators, deer, and the thousands of snowy egrets” (https://www.junglegardens.org/).
As a family-owned business not beholden to the ‘Nestles of the food/agriculture industry’, I feel they will and should continue to take steps forward to reduce their product packaging waste, improve their worker’s lives, and keep their outsourced Tabasco pepper farms in-check.
I would highly recommend their product due to their continued sustainability efforts. I hope as fellow consumers (and Tabasco-lovers) we can signal to Tabasco that we support these sustainability efforts and that we encourage them to continue being innovative.
SAUCE: The 3 ingredients of the world-famous Tabasco® Hot Sauce are Fully-Aged Red Tabasco Peppers, Vinegar, and Salt. These ingredients are "aged in white oak barrels for up to three years on Avery Island, Louisiana, before bottling" (according to Tabasco.com (http://tabasco.com/)). The fact that there are only three ingredients without any added chemicals that induce artificial coloring/longer shelf-life is phenomenal. Other famous hot sauces (like Sriracha) do utilize stabilizing/thickening chemicals like Xanthan Gum (which may cause digestive issues) and many of our supermarket foods utilize artificial coloring (which may cause various cancers). From a sustainability perspective, this means Tabasco Hot Sauce is not so logistically complex wherein hundreds of ingredients need to be sourced globally, which would then cause lots of emissions (as we will see in ‘How It’s Made’). From a health perspective, the health-effects of Vinegar, Chillis, and Salt are pretty well known to humans since they’re not these artificially-created fabricated foodstuffs (unlike foodstuffs like High Fructose Corn Syrup).
Furthermore, Tabasco® Hot Sauce is “Non-GMO, Gluten-free, Kosher, and Halal” (according to Tabasco.com (http://tabasco.com/)), which is great because it means the product is accessible to more people for them to enjoy.
PACKAGING: Tabasco® Hot Sauce is packaged inside a recyclable glass bottle with a plastic red cap. This is a quite sustainable solution (relative to using a plastic bottle) since glass bottles are 100% recyclable and the McIlhenny Company could have very well used a less-risky plastic bottle instead. Glass does have some issues, though, since sand is not a renewable resource and since we are fast decreasing the amount of sand left on the planet, it is affecting communities because lack of sand causes more erosion and flooding and also causes a breakdown of local ecosystems. However, as long as we can ensure Tabasco glass bottles are recycled so that the McIlhenny Company doesn’t need to source new glass from more sand and instead use pre-existing recycled glass, this can be quite a sustainable solution. A recommendation would be for Tabasco to work on ways for countries that buy Tabasco to engage in more glass recycling. The U.S surprisingly only recycles 1/3 of its glass (whereas other rich countries like Switzerland recycles 90% of its glass) (according to https://cen.acs.org/materials/inorganic-chemistry/glass-recycling-US-broken/97/i6). For some poorer countries, the percentage recycled could be much lower. I agree that we cannot just simply burden the McIlhenny Company with this massive initiative, as it is first and foremost a for-profit company, but with their non-profit work in preserving Louisiana coastlines and flora, I feel this would be a good initiative to collaborate on with other multinational companies.
Furthermore, I would recommend the McIlhenny Company to try and find a way to phase-out their plastic red cap and plastic product information wrappers by using a glass cap and paper/engraved product information wrappers respectively.
The salt used in each and every Tabasco® Hot Sauce is mined on Avery Island, Louisiana itself due to Avery Island containing Louisiana’s largest Salt Dome. From a sustainability perspective, this is great as it reduces emissions for sourcing wherein production of all Tabasco can happen on Avery Island.
On this island, Red Tabasco Peppers are grown particularly for their ‘Capsicum Frutescens’ seeds. These seeds are then shipped to various locations in Central/South America to be planted in Red Tabasco Pepper farms. The McIlhenny family (Yes, Tabasco’s McIlhenny Company is still a family-owned business) used to grow all the Red Tabasco Peppers on Avery Island, but due to the vast global demand for Tabasco, they decided to grow only the seeds on the island and outsource the farming to suppliers across the world. This ties into the fact that all the Red Tabasco Peppers that have ever been used in Tabasco Hot Sauce are genetically identical since the Avery Island Seeds are reused again and again without using GMOs. Since the company doesn’t use artificial coloring, the farmers use a “small wooden dowel, le petit bâton rouge, painted the preferred hue of TABASCO® Brand red” to ensure ripeness and correct coloring in the peppers they pick. I think this is a cool and simple innovation!
I think we need to be understanding of the McIlhenny Company global-scale as a company "regularly producing 720,000 bottles of Tabasco sauce a day" (digital.hbs.edu) (which allows all of us to enjoy the wonderful taste of Tabasco wherever we are in the world) and not be quick to judge the outsourcing of peppers that leads to more emissions. It is really tough for a global company to avoid these emissions and the McIlhenny Company nevertheless has done well to source salt from Avery Island, produce all bottles and pepper mash on Avery Island only, keep the number of ingredients low, and "source materials as close to Avery Island as possible (most within a 10-hour delivery circle)" (http://tabasco.com/).
The Salt, Tabasco Peppers, and Vinegar are all mixed together to create pepper mash and aged in white oak barrels. Interestingly, these white oak barrels are actually sourced directly from distilleries like Jack Daniels (the Whiskey stains/smell are cleaned, out of course!). Guess what, the McIlhenny Company doesn’t just stop there. They reuse the white oak barrels “for up to fifty years as part of the pepper mash aging process”. Once the barrels are un-reusable, they “break down the barrel and send the wood out to make TABASCO® Wood Chips” and they reuse “the barrel’s stainless-steel hoops... for other barrels”. These are innovative sustainability moves for putting to use something that might have been thrown away (old whiskey barrels), but also cost-saving and revenue-generating (selling TABASCO® Wood Chips online). This is a win-win for the world and their balance sheet!
On a more holistic scale, the McIlhenny Company promotes the sustainability of their operations such as, "Since 2010, we have reduced our water usage rate by 11% by improving maintenance practices and implementing more efficient wash down procedures" and "We achieved an 88% increase in our recycling rate compared to 2010, and strive to reuse or recycle any production ‘waste’ ” (according to Tabasco.com (http://tabasco.com/)). The recycling of product ‘waste’ entails “waste pepper skin, seeds, and runoff [being] used for compost or in other products”.
The McIlhenny Company has not had any (at least from what I could find) on-site employee-related scandals. In fact, according to digital.hbs.edu (http://digital.hbs.edu/), “employment opportunities in the region surrounding Avery Island are limited and Tabasco employee loyalty is extremely high – in fact, being a second or third-generation employee is not unheard of (i.e. mothers and fathers, along with their grown children, can all be found working for Tabasco). The company is also an attractive employer since it offers full health and dental benefits, along with a retirement plan. Thus, employee turnover is not a challenge the company faces”. This really serves to show Tabasco’s commitment to its employees even as a global for-profit company where the status quo is to not treat them like ‘family’. On the Tabasco website, further benefits for all employees are stated such as: “Comparatively low monthly health care premiums and competitive prescription plan, Life insurance: One-and-a-half times your base salary in free term life insurance; Economic Value Added Incentive Plan (EVA): A bonus plan that provides a direct link between the company’s performance and your compensation, above and beyond salary, based on company performance; Retirement: In 2020, our 401K plan matches 50 cents per dollar, up to 6% of your gross income; and Paid time off for holidays, vacation, and personal days.”
Furthermore, for the outsourced farmers farming Tabasco Peppers in Central/South America, “The McIlhenny Company provides multi-year contracts guaranteeing a price per pound and estimated quantities. [The company] provides seed, grown on Avery Island, at no cost, and helps coordinate for agronomists to provide technical support in the fields” (according to Tabasco.com (http://tabasco.com/)). This is quite interesting because the multi-year contracts provide a lot of stability for these likely poorer farmers and the initial costs are somewhat lessened with free seeds. At the same time, I wish the McIlhenny Company would provide more information on whether these are factory farms or local farmers getting the support, and I wish there was more information on preventing child labor/underpaying (Think of Nestle’s Cocoa plan), given the Tabasco Peppers are grown in developing countries where labor laws are not followed (especially in rural areas).
Image Source (Screenshotted): https://www.tabasco.com/