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Paul McIlhenny, family head of Tabasco, dies

Paul McIlhenny, chief executive and chairman of McIlhenny Company, the business behind Tabasco sauce, has died. He was 68.

Paul McIlhenny, chief executive and chairman of McIlhenny Company, the family business behind Tabasco sauce, has died. He was 68.

According to a statement by the Louisiana-based company, McIlhenny passed away on 23 February. Local New Orleans newspaper Times Picayune reported that McIlhenny died at his home of a heart attack.

The fourth-generation member of the family to be involved with the pepper sauce business, McIlhenny joined the company in 1967, having previously served as an artillerist in the US Marine Corps Reserve.

In 2000 McIlhenny became chief executive, leading the business to “years of record growth in sales and earning”, according to the company. McIlhenny was also a maverick in breaking with the family’s previous unwillingness to diversify.

During his tenure as chief executive McIlhenny oversaw the introduction of multiple new products and flavours, including chipotle pepper sauce, sweet and sour sauce, and buffalo-style hot sauce. Previously the family had stuck to producing only their original flavour pepper sauce.

Tony Simmons, president of McIlhenny Company and fifth-generation McIlhenny family member, said: “We will clearly miss Paul’s devoted leadership but will more sorely feel the loss of his acumen, his charm and his irrepressible sense of humour.”

Now sold in over 165 countries and labelled in 22 languages, Tabasco’s recipe was first devised in the 1860s by Edmund McIlhenny, a former investment banker fed up with the blandness of the Louisiana diet following the American Civil War. McIlhenny blended together peppers, salt and vinegar and bottled his sauce in the small cologne bottles that are still recognisable today.

Great-grandson to Edmund McIlhenny, Paul was also involved in environmental philanthropy. He was vice-chairman of America’s Wetland Foundation, a non-profit organisation aimed at restoring Louisiana’s coast and wetlands. In 2012 McIlhenny was awarded the foundation’s lifetime achievement award for his contributions to the project.

He is survived by his wife, two daughters and four grandchildren. 

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