British Columbia

Hot sauce for a good cause: Bidding for scarce Sriracha gets spicy

Amidst a worldwide shortage of hot sauce Sriracha, a B.C. grocer is auctioning off his last few bottles to support a Chinese cultural festival.

B.C. grocer auctions off popular chili paste in short supply because of drought and heat

Brian Chang holds the last bottle of Sriracha up for auction in his Asian specialty grocery store in Prince George. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC )

A small B.C. grocery store is taking advantage of a  worldwide Sriracha shortage to do a good deed.

The Asian specialty market spiced things up by auctioning off its very last squeeze bottles of the popular chili paste condiment to the highest bidders. 

The response was red hot.

"The response was crazy, really crazy," said Brian Chang, the owner and operator of Marquis International Food and Gifts in downtown Prince George.

 "Everyone said, 'Yes, we want it.'"

Severe heat and drought have hit the hot chili pepper crops Sriracha is made from, forcing a major producer to suspend production until at least autumn.

So while the colourful shelves in Chang's store are packed with everything from Japanese chips and Chinese candy to Persian spices, the Sriracha shelf, next to small bottles of tom yum soup paste, is now bare.

Chang said the $5.99 hot sauce flew off the shelves as soon as news of a pending shortage broke in June.

"We sold out the same day," said Chang. "The local restaurants took it all."   

Chang said a customer told him someone was selling a bottle of Sriracha for $100 on social media.

So when Chang later discovered he still had one last box, he decided it would be fun to put the remaining bottles up for silent auction. 

 

There were no red hot bidding wars, but customers paid triple the pre-shortage price for the scarce sauce.

Chang has donated the money to the Prince George Public Library to support its Chinese Lunar Moon festival, a celebration he marked with his own family.

"My parents and aunts and uncles, we all exchanged mooncakes. They're like  the Asian version of a mini shortbread cookie, really rich in flavour with a little round salted egg in the shape of a moon." 

Victoria Ellis, the library assistant for youth services, says the library is grateful to Chang for the "thoughtful" donation.

In September, local library patrons will be able to make paper lanterns and sample mooncakes. 

Sriracha chili sauce is produced at the Huy Fong Foods factory in Irwindale, Calif., in this file photo from 2013. (Nick Ut/The Associated Press)

In the meantime, Chang is hoping the Sriracha shortage eases soon.

"We hope to get some in soon," he said. "We can't promise anyone, but we'll do what we can."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener has won numerous journalism awards, including a national network award for radio documentary and the Adrienne Clarkson Diversity Award. Based in Prince George, B.C., Betsy has reported on everything from hip hop in Tanzania to B.C.'s energy industry and the Paralympics.

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