During America’s Civil War, Louisiana was a part of the Confederate States of America, known simply as the Confederacy. It came as no surprise then that Union General Nathaniel Banks led a force from the Gulf of Mexico up Bayou Teche. A contingent of soldiers, led by Colonel Kimball, discovered Avery Island. That small beautiful island which had earlier been home to a sugar plantation, was now the location of an active salt mine, supplying the Confederacy. The Union Army burned every building, destroyed every bit of equipment, destroyed the barrels of salt and went on their way with a supply of gun powder also discovered.
After the war, Edmund McIlhenny and his family returned to their home on Avery Island – after having fled to Texas at the start of hostilities. There was little that had been left standing but the family was determined to reclaim their home. McIlhenny discovered one seemingly small element which survived the war – several pepper bushes which he had planted before leaving.
He harvested and crushed the reddest of the peppers, combining them with salt from the Avery Island mine. After 30 days, he mixed that mash with French white wine vinegar and left it to age another 30 days. The result? A magnificent pepper sauce – not too hot but abundant in flavor. McIlhenny may not have been the first to make such a pepper sauce, some suggest others had done so for decades. One thing is certain, McIlhenny was the first to appreciate its flavor and recognize its potential appeal to the masses.
McIlhenny packaged his sauce in old cologne bottles and distributed it to friends and family. The reaction was powerful enough that by 1868 he had harvested his first commercial crop of peppers and by 1870 had received letters of patent from the U.S. government. Edmund ran the business until his death in 1890 when his son, John, assumed leadership. John decided to enlist in Teddy Roosevelt’s 1st US Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, commonly known as the Rough Riders. Succeeding John was his brother Edward, who would run the business for fifty-one years until his death in 1949.
One word which describes McIlhenny’s company and pepper sauce is consistency. Perhaps that’s the result of Edward’s long tenure as head of the company. More likely, it results from the philosophy that it it’s not broke – don’t fix it. While the original recipe remained unchanged, the process saw improvements. High-quality distilled vinegar became a staple and the aging process was extended from thirty days to three years. An important aspect of the new process for aging was the use of white oak barrels – barrels with a history of their own. McIlhenny’s barrels were originally used by Jack Daniel’s distillery in Tennessee.
At the core of quality and consistency with any plant-based product is the seed. McIlhenny’s seeds are cared for in the manner of any priceless asset. The best seeds are saved from each crop for use the following year. Those seeds are kept in two highly secured locations, including the vault of a local bank.
McIlhenny’s red pepper sauce proved popular not just in Louisiana, but throughout the United States. Distribution extended internationally so that today, it is distributed in 120 countries. McIlhenny has received a royal warrant of appointment as an official supplier to Queen Elizabeth II of England. The U.S. Army includes the sauce in MRE’s (meals, ready-to-eat) for its soldiers, as does NASA for its astronauts.
When people think of tissue, they think of Kleenex. When people think of hot sauce, they think of McIlhenny’s original red sauce. That’s because TABASCO® has been a fearless brand since its inception.
Fearless Brands combine consistency with quality
Edmund McIlhenny’s original purpose with TABASCO was to enhance the flavor of food. The company has stuck to that mission throughout its history. TABASCO now has a total of seven flavors, each with a specific taste profile – each intended to enhance compatible flavors.
One thing the company has refused to do however, is to join the frenzy of companies and individuals creating recipes with the hope of creating the ‘hottest’ of hot sauces. Because it’s not consistent with their primary purpose, the company doesn’t even participate in the annual National Fiery Foods Show (yes, there is such a thing).
Avery Island continues to be home to the McIlhenny Company – over half of its 200 employees live on the island. This small, family-owned and operated Louisiana business keeps things simple. The company has maintained a sustainability policy since its inception – primarily out of necessity. They began by using recycled cologne bottles. Once their second-hand wooden barrels can no longer be used – the wood is recycled to other uses.
McIlhenny keeps it simple and that’s just a part of what you can learn from TABASCO when it comes to upgrading your brand.
Keep it simple – TABASCO’s original red sauce has three basic ingredients. The production process is relatively straight forward. They keep things simple. Understand that simple does not mean easy. Maintaining the integrity of the seeds they use is simple – but not easy. Being committed to quality of product and packaging is simple – not necessarily easy. The point is this. Don’t be misled by the adage that bigger or newer or more complicated is better. When it comes to your brand, stay focused on the basics – do them and do them well.
Embrace your purpose – This point is a subset of ‘keep it simple’. McIlhenny’s original purpose was to enhance food’s flavor – to be a complement. That purpose remains at the core of the company philosophy. That goal holds true with their line extensions. Create sauces which ‘partner’ with other flavors to create a greater taste sensation. Ask yourself this – is your brand a compliment to those who use it? Does your brand consider how it will enhance your customer’s products and services rather than overpower them?
Have fun – try new things – As with any company, McIlhenny explores new uses and applications of their sauces – from original red to the latest – ‘sweet & spicy’. At the same time, customers and fans have been inventive on their own. There’s TABASCO flavored steak sauce, mayo and mustard. Popcorn, Slim Jims, chili – even Spam have TABASCO options. There’s even TABASCO flavored chocolate and ice cream (really!) Does your brand get out of its comfort zone and try new things? Get creative. Have fun. Just remain true to your core purpose.
From its beginnings in a small overgrown garden on Avery Island, TABASCO has become a globally known brand. It’s done so by adhering to the principles of a fearless brand. Authenticity, passion, purpose, quality and relevance. It’s really that simple. Follow TABASCO’s lead – just remember that simple doesn’t mean easy. You’ll have to do the work.