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Ciruli expands Bell pepper and hot pepper programs

Ciruli Bros. LLC in Nogales, AZ, has increased production in two areas in its vegetable program over the last couple of seasons, according to Chris Ciruli, chief operating officer.

One area of increase is in bell peppers, he said. “We are seeing really good demand on hothouse red peppers, and we have backed that up with mixing in open field Le Rouge reds. That will put us in [the market] with more red peppers in a little bit different style. It seems like red peppers are a very hot item whether it be foodservice or retail.”

The other area of increase for the company is in the hot pepper category. “Last year, we started out with just Jalapeños and tomatillos,” he said. “This year, we added Serranos and Pasillas to the mix, just trying to gain a little more share on that hot pepper business.”

07-Nogales-CiruliChris CiruliWhile part of the increase in demand for hot peppers can be attributed to the ethnic trends, he said, “hot peppers aren’t moving just in the Hispanic-heavy areas anymore. They are moving in a broad range across the country.”

With respect to personnel, “we have the same good crew as last year on sales,” he said.

With the 2012-13 season underway, “we are going in optimistic,” he said. “Every season, that’s the way you go in as a grower, and we are optimistic about this coming season.”

As of mid-November, the company was “just getting into our Los Mochis and Culiacan programs,” he said “We are still in the starting phases of it. We have green beans going already. We have eggplant and cukes going all ready. By the time that we start winding through the Thanksgiving holiday and moving into December, we will be adding hot peppers. Right now we are seeing very active markets on both Jalapeños and Serranos going into the holiday, and I think you will continue to see that coming out of the holiday.”

Right after Thanksgiving, “that last week of November going into December,” he said, “we will start with green bell peppers. Then as we get into about the middle part of December, we should start with the hothouse colored bells.” In late December, “we will add the tomatoes and Romas, and that will get us in the full swing of the winter deal.”

High freight rates continue to be an issue. “Over here, what we are seeing is the gas prices have eased off a little bit from where they were,” Mr. Ciruli said. But “obviously freight rates are still higher than what we have historically paid in the past.”

In addressing the issue of freight costs, he said, having the ability to load not only in Nogales but, if needed, in the area of McAllen, TX, “gives us nice flexibility.” If trucks “get very tight,” he said, “we still have the option” of sending product through Texas “to try to hedge our bet on freight.” That will be done mainly in peak season, he added. “You won’t see too much of it in November and December,” until maybe late December. But “in January, February and March, when you have so much volume coming through this port, it helps to take a little more over that way just to relieve the pressure.”