Strategic marketing could set original Sriracha apart despite its lack of trademark

The sauce that spawned a number of imitators, that has been infused into countless recipes, that was named the ingredient of the year, and even has web comics dedicated to its spicy, “addictive” flavor isn’t actually even trademarked.

Sriracha, which has indisputably become a part of American pop culture, doesn’t have a trademark, which is leaving imitators free to use the name as well as the ingredient in their products.

The inventor of the sauce and owner of Huy Fong Foods, David Tran, is a 70-year-old Vietnamese refugee whose family helps him operate the Sriracha factory, a 650,000 square foot building just outside of Los Angeles.

Though one might expect Tran to be tearing his barely-there hair out in tufts and lamenting not trademarking his signature sauce, he’s actually not too bothered by it. That he has no trademark for Sriracha means that companies that want to use the sauce don’t buy it from Tran (they can produce it themselves) and he doesn’t get any royalties from sales related to the Sriracha name and recipe.

Tran, however, sees it as free advertising for his sauce — and he never had a marketing budget to begin with. The thing is, he’s probably right.

Food and restaurant mammoths like Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Lays, and other national brands have all dipped their toes in the Sriracha waters by experimenting with the pepper and garlic concoction, but sales of Tran’s original Sriracha sauce aren’t showing any signs of slowing.

The Huffington Post reports that Tran’s company makes about $60 million in sales, a number which is expected to grow 20% annually — and this is without any marketing strategies put in place.

The closest thing Tran has done to a marketing stunt was to open his factory for tours after residents in L.A. suburb Irwindale filed complaints that the factory smelled odd, and that fumes emanating from it made their eyes burn.

Some think that the fact that Tran didn’t get a trademark was a colossal mistake, but if Tran does start a strategic marketing strategy now, he may be able to cement his sauce in the public’s mind as the original Sriracha sauce and help set his brand apart from the posers.

For one thing, the iconic packaging and the rooster logo are both trademarked and have already helped build recognition of Tran’s brand of Sriracha. Staying true to this could position Tran’s brand as the quintessential sauce; the original that started it all.

Digital marketing could also help Tran and his sauce carve out a permanent niche for itself among the imposters, by creating unique and compelling online content that maintains the already recognizable brand that sets Tran’s Sriracha apart. Either way, it seems that at least for now, Tran’s Sriracha still reigns as the most popular pepper garlic sauce on the market.

“We seem to be the best-known Sriracha out there,” Tran’s longtime deputy Donna Lam told The Bulletin. “Everyone seems to use our brand as the gold standard. If anything, we are proud we started the Sriracha craze.”