Is harissa the new sriracha? Entube chili pastes launch in Whole Foods

Is harissa the new sriracha? Entube chili pastes launch in Whole Foods

The explosive success of sriracha - a fiery sauce used in Asian cooking that became a cult hit in the US thanks to Huy Fong Foods – proved that some Americans like it hot. The more recent surge of interest in harissa – a staple in North African and Middle Eastern cuisine - suggests they are also looking for more complex flavors as well as heat, says the founder of Entube. 

Entube’s harissa chili paste features paprika, cayenne, sea salt, olive oil, acerola berry, cumin, sumac, garlic, coriander and spices, explains LA-based founder Richard Lassalle, a designer by trade (the labels are of his own design) who manufactures his product in Montreal, but says “endless summers in Provence” inspired him to reinvent the culinary staple.

Harissa has really been trending hugely in the US over the past couple of years

The product – which has no added sugar or preservatives - is also super-versatile, working well with burgers, crackers and cheese, potatoes, steak, hummus, yogurt, salad dressing, vegetables, eggs and fish, adds Lassalle, who says there has been a well-documented shift towards hotter, more complex flavors and spices in everything from snacks to condiments, while Millennials in particular are more adventurous eaters than their parents, trends which all bode well for Entube.

“I feel like I entered the market at just the right time, unwittingly! Harissa has really been trending hugely in the US over the past couple of years with lots of people calling it the ‘new sriracha,’ so there’s been a lot of companies bringing out products here.

“But most of them are in jars, and are more sauce-like, almost like a tomato sauce, whereas mine is a paste in a tube, which really stands out. It’s also far more convenient. If you’ve got a jar, you use the whole thing or half of it and then what’s left in the jar often ends up spoiling,” added Lassalle, who has been at the Summer Fancy Food show this week looking for east coast distributors.

“I think most of these kinds of products used to appeal to a certain demographic, but now everyone’s eating them – or willing to try them.”

Whole Foods is stocking Entube in the ethnic foods section

As for retailers, says Lassalle - who officially launched online and independent gourmet and health food stores last November - some stores put harissa by tomato puree, some put it in the ethnic foods section, others by hot sauce or ketchup.

We’ve just got into Whole Foods northeast and they are stocking it in the ethnic section, which I’m happy about as we would be completely lost if we were put in with hot sauce.

“We’ve also got other chili-based pastes – Indian curry chili paste [available now], and Umeboshi chili paste [launching in August] and other things in the pipeline including a Mexican-inspired burnt habanero tamarind and a thai lemongrass chili, which are designed to sit together on shelf to create a really beautiful display as they all have a distnctive color.”

We want to get into places where we will be discovered

While snagging shelf space at Whole Foods is key to any emerging brand, securing real estate at gourmet independent stores has also been key to spreading the word, as it’s where many chefs  - and retail buyers - go to seek out new ingredients and gain fresh inspiration, says Lassalle, who has also struck a deal with Plated to get his pastes (in single serve format) into selected meal kits.

“We want to get into places where we will be discovered by the people we want to reach.

We got into Williams Sonoma in San Diego [an upmarket retailer offering high-end cookware, furnishings and gourmet goods] as one of their buyers was in Bi-Rite [gourmet grocery store] in San Francisco and discovered our product and called me up to say hey we like this can we put it in our store. I said sure, and here are our other products. She emailed me back 20 minutes later and said we’ll take you nationwide.

“It’s also how we got into Whole Foods. The buyer in its northeast region bought a tube at Union Market in New York, loved it, and then approached a distributor and said can we get this in our stores?”

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