JCJC’s Honors College students learn about the innovation of Tabasco

Written By: Teresa Martin
Email Address: teresa.martin@jcjc.edu
Date Submitted: 2013-03-08 14:48:14

ELLISVILLE – What could Jones County Junior College’s Honors Institute students learn from the nations’ original pepper sauce inventor? Simmons’s McIlhenny Company which produces Tabasco on Louisiana’s Avery Island shared how the family could have missed the opportunity to create what is now known as Tabasco by overlooking the obvious. He appealed to the students’ senses with a descriptive family history of innovation and business survival.
“In 1868 Edmund McIlhenny turned his passion for peppers into a global desire for Tabasco brand pepper sauce by taking it with him and sharing it with people, as he hunted for a job in New Orleans. The original pepper plant thrived by a chicken coop and was almost overlooked,” said Simmons.
At the time there weren’t any condiments like pepper sauce. Simmons explained his great, great grandfather invented the category when he decided to mash and age the hot peppers with salt and vinegar to create Tabasco. Today the company still uses the original recipe but produces it en masse. When all four production lines at the Avery Island factory are in operation, over 700,000 2-oz. bottles of the Original Red Sauce can be made in a single day. The product is labeled in 22 languages and dialects, it’s sold in over 165 countries and territories, it can be found in soldiers’ rations, as well as restaurant tables around the globe. Simmons said, the only changes over the years have been in the aging process of the mash, which takes up to three years in white oak barrels, and the vinegar is high-quality distilled vinegar.
“In 1963 we outgrew the ability to grow all our own peppers on Avery Island and we began hiring small growers in Central and South America. We improved the method of producing 2000 gallons of the pepper mash and we still allow it to sit 28 days; that hasn’t changed over the years,” said Simmons.
Until 1994, the red pepper hot sauce was the sole product the McIlhenny Company sold.  What has changed over the years according to Simmons, who is president of the fifth generation family-owned company, is the marketing and expansion of products. The previous chairman and chief executive officer of the company, Paul McIlhenny, is credited with expanding the company by producing seven varieties of the hot sauce and co-branding Tabasco with other products like A1 steak sauce and Cheeze-it crackers.
“Those companies use our name to promote their products which provides EVA or economic value added to the company. Expanding the brand into other markets has helped make Tabasco more successful. We are now using the same amount of capital and we’ve doubled our revenues,” said Simmons.
JCJC sophomore from State Line, Berrett Odom said he has a better appreciation for the company after hearing The McIlhenny story. “I am intrigued by all the new products the company has produced just recently, after having just one for more than 135 years. I think it’s great that all of the family are ‘chili-heads’.”
Every McIlhenny descendant is a “chili-head” from birth Simmons explained. He personally tastes the tabasco mash daily, which can be 35,000 scoville units, or very hot! Success, Simmons explained did not come easily for the family owned company.  Some bad marketing decisions early on and attempts to expand into canning Tabasco in the 1930’s failed and almost bankrupt the company. Those problems also helped the family into operating Tabasco without debt today. The challenges and destruction of storms like Hurricane Rita have also brought improvements to the island home of the original hot pepper sauce. JCJC President Dr. Jesse Smith encouraged the students to find something appealing to their senses because people understand things that appeal to the senses. He challenged them to take a risk and catch the entrepreneurial spirit, like the McIlhenny’s.

 

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