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Real Avocados, Real Heat

Luke Woodard | July 10, 2023

Food | The Originate Initiative

The MegaMex Foods team takes home the Hormel Foods Innovation Prize for creating the world’s first avocado hot sauce.

The Best of the Best

When Giselle Olson, brand manager for the Herdez® brand, set out to leave her mark on the world of hot sauce, she gave her team one mission: “Disrupt the sea of red.” This challenge, however, was about more than just color. The Herdez® Avocado Hot Sauce is the first product of its kind. According to Olson, “This is the first ever hot sauce made with real avocados. It’s unlike anything else you’ll find in restaurants or grocery stores.”

We knew we had an opportunity to disrupt the hot sauce market

Giselle Olson, brand manager

The new hot sauce made the shortlist in the Hormel Foods Best of the Best, a competition created to recognize the most innovative new products within the Hormel Foods family of companies. As part of the competition, Olson’s team got to tell the story of the product’s creation to Hormel Foods executives, including Chairman, President and CEO Jim Snee. The judges take into account product uniqueness, R&D problem solving, cross-cultural relevance and a variety of financial and strategic indicators. The Herdez® Avocado Hot Sauce emerged at the front of the pack in the annual competition, distinguishing it as one of the most innovative and promising new products in the marketplace.

Creating a brand-new, delicious and shelf-stable product using premium ingredients is no easy task, but Olson’s team made it happen. “We knew we had an opportunity to disrupt the hot sauce market,” Olson told the panel, “but there was a lot of work that we needed to do.” Developing a new product will always bring unexpected challenges, but when the product is the first of its kind, these difficulties are likely to be even more substantial. According to product manufacturing manager Alyssa Romero, some of the biggest challenges were related to the limited shelf life of fresh avocados. “Avocados have a short window before they lose their appearance and flavor,” she points out, “especially when you cut them open.”

Romero’s team was mindful of the fact that food service providers — and even regular consumers — typically keep condiments on their tables, so developing a formula with real avocados that could achieve an 18-month shelf life without refrigeration was a must. To this end, the team at MegaMex Foods was able to leverage the expertise they gained while developing their Herdez® Guacamole Salsa. Even with that head start, the avocado hot sauce required new solutions. The consistency and flavor profile are different, and so Romero and her colleagues found themselves repeatedly back at the drawing board. After months of work, the team was successful. “It’s not easy using avocados as a base for any recipe,” Romero says, “but this challenge is precisely what makes Herdez® Avocado Hot Sauce so special.”

Ingredients Culture and Authenticity

Even with a winning formula, Olson knew that the avocado hot sauce would have to stand out in the crowded hot sauce sections of grocery stores — she couldn’t let her product get lost amid the sea of red bottles. The unique green color of the sauce was an advantage here, but the creative team set to work designing a bottle that would be as unique as the sauce itself.

We wanted something that would not only reflect the product, but also the rich culture and history of the regions where avocados are grown.

Giselle Olson, brand manager

The team decided to focus on imagery and symbolism from Mexico, where the majority of avocados come from.

In the final design the bottom half of the bottle is round, similar to the shape of an avocado. The top half of the bottle — as well as the cap — has a distinctive tapered design, similar in shape to a molcajete, “a mortar and pestle made from volcanic rock,” Olson says. “In Mexican culture, the most authentic sauces are made with this ancient tool.”

Similarly, the symmetry and concentric lines on the package design was inspired by the artwork on Aztec manuscripts. “It was important to us that our branding reflected the fact that the product is truly inspired by Mexico,” she says.

Generating Excitement

Stephanie Bloch, national category sales manager for MegaMex Foods, and her team went all in on setting the product up for a successful launch, employing new strategies to generate excitement and awareness. After all, the avocado hot sauce isn’t just new for the Herdez® brand — it’s new for consumers as well. At the center of the pre-launch awareness campaign was “the first-ever Herdez® branded food truck,” Bloch says. “We stationed it in busy areas, providing consumers with an opportunity to taste recipes that highlighted the hot sauce, while giving them samples and coupons to drive consumption and sales.” The truck handed out more than 250,000 samples over a 10-week period, driving so many sales that the shelves were empty by the end of the event.

In addition to spreading awareness and excitement, this high level of consumer engagement helped Bloch and her team gain valuable market insights, which allowed them to direct their efforts most effectively. The team developed a suite of sales tools that included videos and branded kitchen supplies that were used in culinary presentations. They were also able to secure placement slots in three episodes of the latest season of the Netflix show “Taco Chronicles.” Given the success of this food-forward approach to marketing, Olson reports that “consumers have been willing to pay a premium for our hot sauce.”

So far, the product has been a success. With that accomplishment the team is looking to launch the product in Europe and South America.

Olson reports that the team has incorporated consumer feedback to increase the heat level of the sauce since its initial launch, and a hotter variant is currently available on store shelves. “We also have new flavors in the works,” she says, “including a habanero sauce that will be launching in the upcoming year.” It’s this forward-looking spirit that drives the team at MegaMex Foods, empowering them to develop delicious and innovative products that Hormel Foods is proud to call the Best of the Best.