For the past 149 years, oyster aficionados and hot wing lovers around the world have reached for an ubiquitous, red-capped glass bottle to add some heat to their dish. Tabasco hot sauce, introduced in 1868, has since proliferated to 165 countries and become the most well-known brand of hot sauce globally. What is less well-known is that every one of the 750,000 bottles of Tabasco produced daily originates in Avery Island, a small, marshy town located in the south of Louisiana. Here, five generations of the McIlhenny family have been cultivating Tabasco heritage for nearly a century and half. To ensure that the Tabasco legacy continues for generations to come, the McIlhennys must confront the effects of climate change on their tabasco chili supply chain.
The production of Tabasco hot sauce begins and ends in Avery Island, where tabasco chili seeds are cultivated, carefully selected, and then sent to fields in Latin America and Africa to grow into adult chilies. Once ripe, the chilies are mashed and shipped back to Avery Island to be aged in oak barrels for three years. This process provides the McIlhennys with control over the product quality, but exposes the supply chain to several climate change related risks.
In the short term, the Tabasco seed bank and pepper fields in Avery Island must withstand increasingly frequent flooding and hurricanes resulting from climate change. In 2005, Hurricane Rita made landfall in Louisiana, causing storm surges and flooding that “at 9 feet 8 inches…was nearly double the highest flood level anyone could remember.” Low-lying fields of tabasco peppers were flooded and the storage facilities holding as many as 53,000 barrels of inventory in-progress came within inches of being inundated. In response, the family invested $5M into constructing a 17-foot high levee and on-site backup generator to protect Avery Island and its fields from future flood events.
In the longer term, rising sea levels threaten the very existence of Avery Island. Avery Island is constantly fighting off saltwater intrusion, which kills marsh grass and leads to erosion of the wetland. According to the American Wetland Foundation, the coastal region is “vanishing at a rate of a football field every hour”.  The McIlhennys have been fighting against erosion by planting new grass, but with sea levels forecast to rise by half an inch a year, the tide will inevitably turn in favor of the ocean, and Avery Island along with much of the south coast of Louisiana will be submerged.
Fortunately, the McIlhennys had the foresight to diversify their chili supply chain. While all seeds are still cultivated in Avery Island, the majority of the pepper plants are now grown abroad. Ultimately the legacy of the Avery Island tabasco chilies will endure not in Louisiana, but in pepper fields in South America and Africa.
However, even this may not be enough to forestall the effects of climate change. As a single heritage plant (the McIlhennys have been growing the same tabasco seed for generations, stored securely in a vault in Avery Island), the supply chain has a single point of failure in the form of the tabasco chili itself. A sudden freeze can kill a crop overnight, changes in lengths of growing seasons will introduce volatility into the chili supply, and unpredictable precipitation may result in poor growing conditions for the tabasco chili. And while geographic diversification mitigates some of these risks, in the Yucatán, Mexico, hurricane winds introduced African diseases to chili crops and resulted in “spotted and curled leaves and decreased plant yields”. Research and development into seed variants that inoculate the crop against future agricultural risks would be a worthwhile endeavor for the company.
Beyond yield and crop viability, the McIlhennys must also grapple with increased variability in crop quality. This phenomenon, nicknamed “global weirding” , has resulted in unexpected colors and flavors in crops, in addition to reduced or unpredictably timed yields. An interesting question to answer would be how and if tabasco chili flavor or heat will vary under climate stress, and whether Tabasco is able to accommodate the increased variability in supply.
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 Kristina Shevory, “This Family’s Hot Stuff,” New York Times, March 30, 2007, [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/30/business/31tabasco.web.html], accessed November 14, 2017.
 Elaine K. Anderson, “Rapid Response Inundation Map”, Dartmouth Flood Observatory, 2005, [http://www.dartmouth.edu/~floods/images/2005130GulfCoastRita.jpg], accessed November 14, 2017.
 Eileen Fleming, “Tabasco Joins Forces with America’s Wetland Foundation to Fight Coastal Erosion,” WWNO, April 12, 2012, [http://wwno.org/post/tabasco-joins-forces-americas-wetland-foundation-fight-coastal-erosion], accessed November 14, 2017.
 “Louisiana wetlands struggling with sea-level rise four times the global average”, March 14, 2017, [https://phys.org/news/2017-03-louisiana-wetlands-struggling-sea-level-global.html], accessed November 13, 2017.
 Mike Stones, “Swamp spice”, Food Manufacture, July 4, 2013, [https://www.foodmanufacture.co.uk/Article/2013/07/02/Tabasco-builds-global-food-business-on-three-ingredients], accessed November 14, 2017.
 Sanjay Gupta, “Tabasco: Fighting bland food since 1868”, CBS News, August 3, 2014, [https://www.cbsnews.com/news/tabasco-hot-sauce-industry-60-minutes], accessed November 15, 2017.
 Anne Raver, “Hot on the Trail of Chili Peppers”, New York Times, April 6, 2011, [http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/07/garden/07garden.html], accessed November 15, 2017.
 Gary Nabhan, “Global weirding and the scrambling of terroir”, Grist, October 28, 2010, [http://grist.org/article/food-2010-10-27-global-weirding-and-the-scrambling-of-terroir], accessed November 15, 2017.