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After a spring of very high prices, increased summer production has brought the price of red, yellow and green bell peppers back to a normal range with most sales in the $11 to $14 range per carton in early August.

“It is a very competitive market,” said Mike Aiton, marketing manager of Prime Time Sales LLC in Coachella,

Mike Aiton and Bobby Astengo of Prime Time International promoted the company's peppers at the recent PMA Foodservice exposition in Monterey, CA. Pepper prices have moderated with increased summer production, but larger year-round shippers such as Prime Time are biding their time until the summer deals end. (Photo by John Groh)
CA. “We are pulling reds, yellows and greens out of Oxnard [CA] right now and competing with shippers up and down the coast. Growers from San Diego to Salinas [CA] are in the deal this time of the year. In addition, there are 25 states with truck farmers also providing peppers right now.”

 

Mr. Aiton indicated that the larger grower-shippers, such as Prime Time, are biding their time until the summer deals end and the year-round shippers have the market to themselves again. “There are a lot of high temperatures around the country, and that will tend to kill off the blossoms pretty quickly,” affecting the local truck farm deals, he said.

Prime Time will continue to produce in coastal California through the summer and into the fall. At that point, the harvest will shift to the California desert. Typically, the Coachella Valley deal in California will last from November through June. The firm augments its desert production with fields in Baja California during much of the year.

One very bright spot for the pepper category has been the fast-selling and relatively new mini sweet pepper. The small and colorful peppers in mostly orange, red and yellow come in various shapes, including bell-like and elongated. They can look like hotter peppers such as Jalapeños, but they are a mild-tasting, sweet pepper. “This is a great item for us,” said Mr. Aiton, who is one of several shippers that is offering this item in mostly two-pound bags to retailers.

Because the mini pepper plants are highly productive with great per-acre yields, the product can have very attractive pricing. “We were test marketing it for a while, and now we finally have it dialed in,” he said. “It is very encouraging. The plants produce like crazy, so the package can have a good price point. And it has a great shelf life.”

Mr. Aiton said earlier this year that the company moved a phenomenal amount of product during an East Coast promotion at a specific retail operation. “We were surprised at how much we moved.”

He added that it has become a mainstream item sold at most retail operations including big-box stores.