Because demand has yet to plateau and production cost is high, miniature sweet peppers are a bit of a gamble. Growers can roll sevens or shoot craps.
So far it seems to be sevens. But the payoff may have been even sweeter.
Fresno, Calif.-based Baloian Farms expects to start harvesting mini sweets — along with red and yellow bells — in the Coachella Valley in mid-November.
From season to season and region to region, acreage has been a moving target for planners.
“I’m still fairly young in this industry but it’s the first time I’ve seen a new commodity come on that our company’s been involved with,” said Jeremy Lane, sales manager at Baloian Farms. “It’s hard to put a number on, but mini sweet usage is up significantly.”
The pressure’s on in the production meetings where acreage is scheduled.
“Should we increase it 5%, 10%? Should we double it?” Lane said. “Big swings are scary to make, but these are questions that have to be answered eight to 12 months in advance.”
It’s scary because growing mini sweet peppers is comparatively costly.
“They are not on the affordable side,” Lane said. “It’s a large investment from seed to field to harvesting and packing, but it’s exciting. Growers are engaged. Sales and retail are very engaged.”
“Demand has outpaced speculation,” he said. “It’s taken off on its own, not through any marketing genius. It’s just a really delicious product.”
On the bell pepper side, Baloian Farms made its bid for marketing genius in July with the rollout of Oddbells, a 1-pound cello pack of misshapen green or red bells aimed at bargain shoppers. They’re carried by four retailers the company declined to name.
“The only difference is the shape and the price,” Lane said. “Roughly 40% of shoppers report shopping multiple stores looking for the best deal. This will help our retail partners capture a sale with those customers.
“It’s not necessarily diluting the category. They’ll have the traditional perfectly shaped pepper or if they’re looking for value and want more than one then we have this pack.”
Oddbells are likely to end up sliced or chopped by home cooks, in which case shape becomes irrelevant.
Lane expects good volume and size on block-shaped peppers.
“It will be predominantly a retail grade extra large with some large,” he said Oct. 18.
Baloian Farms transitions to Coachella Valley around Thanksgiving on a range of crops which run in the desert to mid-March before returning to Fresno.
Leaf items include romaine, red leaf, green leaf and butter lettuce. In the Thermal area, Baloian grows cauliflower, spinach and romaine hearts.