Bruce Foods sells Original Louisiana Brand Hot Sauce to Georgia company _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Bruce Foods Corp. in New Iberia is selling its staple of Original Louisiana Brand Hot Sauce to Georgia-based Southeastern Mills Inc.

Bruce Foods Corp. in New Iberia has sold its Original Louisiana Brand Hot Sauce and related assets to Georgia-based Southeastern Mills Inc.

The purchase includes all of the brands and intellectual property related to Bruce’s hot sauce business, as well as manufacturing and warehouse facilities in New Iberia.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Bruce Foods President and Chief Executive Officer J.S. “Si” Brown III said Southeastern Mills, a family business, will be good stewards of the hot sauce business Bruce Foods built over seven decades.

“At this point, Bruce Foods’ strategic vision focuses heavily on our Mexican foods, marinades and seasonings, as well as our line of outdoor cooking appliances,” Brown said.

Those products include the Casa Fiesta, Cajun Injector marinades and seasonings, Mexene Chili Powder and Cajun King lines, all made at the company’s El Paso, Texas, plant.

The sale of the hot sauce business marks Bruce Foods’ second major move to a new corporate strategy in as many years. In late 2013, the company sold its canned-vegetable line, which included Bruce’s Yams, to McCall Farms in South Carolina. McCall closed the cannery in late 2014, laying off more than 100 people.

That is less likely this time around.

Under the terms of the acquisition, Southeastern Mills will retain the roughly 100 workers at the hot sauce plant and warehouse, according to both companies. The New Iberia plant will continue to operate as before.

And Brown said no one should look at the hot sauce business sale as a signal the family is exiting the food business.

“We’re going to grow our business. We still have a lot of business,” Brown said. “The El Paso plant is the biggest plant in the company.”

The other brands Southeastern Mills acquired include Louisiana Wing Sauce, Red Rooster hot sauce, Louisiana Gold Pepper Sauce, Louisiana Brand Tabasco Peppers in Vinegar and Bruce’s Tabasco Peppers in Vinegar. The newly acquired brands will operate under the company name “The Original Louisiana Hot Sauce Co.”

The Original Louisiana Brand Hot Sauce has been around for 80 years and is carried by all major U.S. grocers and restaurants. The hot sauce is distributed in more than 60 countries.

A recent survey by data analysts The NPD Group found that 56 percent of U.S. households stock hot sauce and distributors ship more Louisiana-style hot sauce to food outlets than any other variety.

Even with that popularity, Louisiana hot sauce offers tremendous growth opportunities, said George Manak, Southeastern Mills vice president of business development and strategy.

“We think that there’s lots of runway with consumers for bold and spicy flavors, particularly as they acclimate their palates to a broader range of flavors,” Manak said.

In addition, Southeastern Mills’ newest addition capitalizes on a uniquely American flavor style, Cajun cooking, he said. The Louisiana Brand Hot Sauce is also attractive to consumers because it consists of three simple, all-natural ingredients, and consumers are looking for cleaner labels.

“Louisiana Brand Hot Sauce has the cleanest label in the hot sauce business,” Manak said.

Linda Owens, president of Southeastern Mills Inc., said the deal adds another strong brand to Southeastern Mills, strengthens the company’s retail portfolio and increases the number of products for foodservice and industrial customers.

Stan Harris, president and chief executive officer of the Louisiana Restaurant Association, said while it’s sad to see iconic brands change hands, the hot sauces are going to another family operation.

Southeastern Mills will undoubtedly increase the distribution of the hot sauces, Bruce Foods’ biggest products in the restaurant market, Harris said. The large, broad-line distribution companies, like Sysco and Reinhart Foodservice, will continue to carry the hot sauces. They’ll just have a different source.

The deal allows Southeastern Mills, primarily an ingredient and mix company, to add “a hot commodity” to its product line, Harris said.

Consumption of hot sauce has gone through the roof in recent years, and hot sauce consumers have proven to be as loyal to their brand as a bourbon drinker is to his or her label, Harris said.

“There’s a Louisiana Gold guy, an Original guy, or a Crystal Hot Sauce guy, or a Tabasco guy,” Harris said. “Over the last eight or 10 years, they’ve also had dramatic line extensions. They’ve added chipotle. They’ve added jalapeño sauces and different methods of making this.”

Southeastern Mills is a fourth-generation food company based in Rome, Georgia. The company operates in three segments of the food industry: industrial, foodservice and branded consumer. The company’s brands include Better than Bouillon food bases, Shore Lunch soups and breadings, and Better than Gravy gravy mixes.

Manak said the hot sauce acquisition will allow Southeastern Mills to add hot sauce flavors to some of its other products, such as the bouillon and batter and breading mixes.