view current print edition




Pepper shipper Uesugi Farms adds Ghost pepper to its lineup

by Rand Green | May 02, 2011

Uesugi Farms Inc. a major grower-shipper of green and colored Bell peppers and an array of hot chili peppers, has introduced a new variety of chili to its line-up.

peppersGilroy, CA-based Uesugi Farms grows a variety of peppers in six districts in California and has a winter deal in Mexico. It farms on 2,000 acres and has another 2,000 acres of production from other growers. (Photo courtesy of Uesugi Farms)


The Gilroy, CA-based company is now offering the Ghost pepper, which originated in India and is known also by its Indian name, Bhut Jolokia. At more than 1 million Scoville heat units by some analyses, it is often regarded as the world’s hottest pepper.

“The Ghost pepper is an up-and-coming product for us, so we are trying to focus on promoting that,” said Pete Aiello, general manager and an owner of the company.

“Last year, we started tinkering with the Ghost pepper,” Mr. Aiello said. “It is an extremely hot pepper native to India and relatively new to the market. We grow a very small amount in a greenhouse here in the Salinas area, [so] we are just barely dipping our toe in the water on this, but it is gaining momentum. I think the novelty of having the world’s hottest pepper is kind of an attraction for a lot of folks, so it is gaining a lot of steam. But it is still a very small niche at this point.”

At the other extreme of the heat scale, “one of the interesting varieties we grow is a heatless Jalapeño,” Mr. Aiello said. “It is a seed that Campbell’s Soup engineered themselves and gave it to us to grow for them. That is the pepper they use to make all of their paste salsa. They take a heatless Jalapeño just to get the flavor, and then they add their own capsaicin so they can have a consistent heat level with every single jar of salsa they produce.”

Uesugi Farms sells its peppers for processing and on the fresh market. There is, however, “very little fresh sales” for the heatless Jalapeño, he said.

Among the other chili peppers grown and marketed by Uesugi Farms are regular Jalapeño, Serrano, Poblano, Anaheim, Habañero, Hungarian Wax, Caribe and Cascabel.

In the Bell pepper category, Uesugi Farms grows greens, reds and yellows.

“We grow in half a dozen districts throughout California plus [have] a wintertime deal down in Mexico,” Mr. Aiello said. The company farms about 2,000 acres in all, “and we have contracted other growers to grow for us,” amounting to roughly an additional 2,000 acres.

“We are a year-round supplier of pepper products,” he said. “That is our biggest commodity in terms of volume.”

In addition to the Bells and chilis, the company grows some other commodities in smaller volume, such as strawberries and Asian vegetables, notably bok choy and napa.

In the pepper category, “we do a lot of fresh market, and we also do a lot of processing grade,” he said. “We are pretty diversified as far as the clientele we have.” Fresh-market customers include some of the big retailers. Also, “we do a lot of foodservice, and we do some wholesale and terminal market sales.”

Uesugi Farms offers both conventional and certified-organic products. The organics are “a fairly new program” that the company has been involved with for just a few years, “whereas the conventional business we have been in for a much longer time,” he said. “We are actually not organic growers, but we are certified-organic handlers. We have three different growers that grow organic peppers for us. Again, we do both a fresh market and a processing application with those.”

Mr. Aiello was just four years old when his father, Joe Aiello, purchased Uesugi Farms with a partner in 1979. “My dad bought his partner out in 2004, and that is when I bought some company stock and became a partner,” he said.

Joe Aiello continues as company president.