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Mexico major component in Prime Time's bell pepper program

by Rand Green | December 06, 2010
Prime Time Sales LLC. in Coachella, CA, exclusive sales agent for Prime Time International, also in Coachella, is in the bell pepper business year round, with production in both California and Mexico.

The Mexican share of the company's volume has been expanding, and now "we actually have greater production in Mexico than we do in California, so it is a huge part of our program," said Mike Aiton, director of marketing. “Probably last year would be the first year when the scale kind of tipped.”

In California, Prime Time’s production of green bells starts in April and the red bells start about mid-May, he said. The first California peppers of the year come out of Coachella. Then production moves up to Bakersfield, over to Oxnard, and back down to Coachella for the fall, with some overlap among the different areas.

In Mexico, Prime Time begins harvesting bell peppers in the state of Sinaloa in November and packing them at the company’s packing facility near Culiacan. They are then brought to Prime Time’s Nogales facility for distribution. “We are just starting now,” Mr. Aiton said Nov. 16. “We have actually started receiving peppers into Nogales as we speak.” The Culiacan production will typically continue through about mid-April. That dovetails into production from Baja California, Mexico for April and May, crossing into San Diego.

“If everything goes right, all the transitions will be very seamless for our customers,” he said. “I think we will have good promotable volumes for the next six months.”

Currently, “we are harvesting peppers in Oxnard, Coachella, mainland Mexico and Baja California, so we’ve got all four places going,” he said. “Demand is good in advance of the holidays, so we are making the most of it while we have the opportunity.”

The company’s acreage in Mexico is “up a bit” this year, Mr. Aiton said. “We continue to be bullish on Mexico, both mainland and Baja, and our production continues to increase.”

Prime Time will have good supplies of both hothouse and field peppers throughout the season, according to Mr. Aiton. The hothouse product is packed in 11-pound boxes, and the field grown product is packed in 15- pound and 25-pound boxes. In addition, the peppers are available in special packs.

“We do reds, greens, yellows and oranges,” he said.

The big news for this year, Mr. Aiton said, is that “we are in the midst of expanding and remodeling” the Culiacan packinghouse. The project is designed to “increase our throughput” and also to make improvements in dumping, sizing, grading and pre-cooling, “so it is an extensive project. We have been working on it for quite some time and were hoping to have it done by now,” but it now appears that it will be “shortly after the beginning of the year until it is up and rolling at full capacity.”

The facility improvements have been needed “to modernize the facility and be able to provide the same quality and sorting and sizing and pre-cooling that we do at our other packinghouses,” he said.

“One of the things we are doing” with the facility improvements at the Culiacan facility is “expanding its capability to do bags,” he said. “Bags seem to be a growing part of our business.” Prime Time does bags in three-, four-, six- and 12-count sizes, “and we can mix and match the colors” to whatever customers would like. “We have some customers that prefer just one color, and some like the stoplight [pack]“ with red, yellow and green peppers in the pack. “We have display boxes for the bags” in addition to the regular standard cartons which are Euro-style “so they fit snugly on regular pallets.”

Everything is packed in the “Prime Time” label.

“We take great care down there [in Mexico] to make sure the cooling is right, to make sure the palletization is right, and to get [the product] from the field to the packinghouse, cool them in the packinghouse, and get them up to Nogales as quickly as possible,” he said.

“We have a fully-staffed year-round office in Nogales” as well as a distribution warehouse, Mr. Aiton said. On sales in the Nogales office are Bobby Astengo and Art Mendoza. In addition, there are four people on sales in the Coachella office who also sell the product.