Huy Fong Founder Doesn’t Regret Failing To Trademark “Sriracha”

Twenty-Five years ago, David Tran’s Huy Fong Foods began selling its now-famous Sriracha hot sauce. Now the “sriracha” name shows up on Heinz ketchup, the Taco Bell menu, Pizza Hut crusts, potato chips from Pringles, and numerous other items. But Tran and his company don’t see a dime for any of those products because he didn’t think to trademark the word back in 1980.

The sauce was something new to the American market back then and Tran could likely have trademarked the name and scored licensing deals with all these companies that use the word on their products.

But now there are so many people making sriracha that it would be like trying to trademark “ketchup” or “mustard.”

But Tran tells the L.A. Times that he doesn’t regret trying to claim ownership of the word all those decades ago. He sees the popularity of the product as nothing but free advertising for him, especially since his company has no marketing budget.

And it seems to have worked, with sales of Huy Fong sauce jumping $20 million over the last two years, in spite of the growing number of competitors.

According to Tran, he’s constantly being told he should go after other companies who use the name.

“Everyone wants to jump in now,” he explains. “We have lawyers come and say, ‘I can represent you and sue,’ and I say, ‘No. Let them do it.’”

And the lawyers may be mistaken as recent attempts by others to trademark sriracha have failed for being too generic.

One thing that Huy Fong has trademarked is its look. The signature rooster design, logo and green-capped bottle all belong to the California-based company, mostly as a way to curb fake lookalike imports.

The company does have licensing deals with a handful of other businesses, like the beer brewers at Rogue who use Huy Fong sauce in a beer that is bottled with a green cap. But even with those deals, Huy Fong does not get a royalty.

While Huy Fong has been able to grow in the face of competition, Tran admits there is concern now that the hot sauce kings of McIlhenny Co., makers of Tabasco, have gotten into the sriracha business.

“My ‘rooster killer’ jumped into the market,” Tran acknowledges. “They’re a big company. They have a lot of money and a lot of advertising.”