Delightful Quality Produce Co., Mesa, Ariz., began operations in 2009. Partner Jose Felix describes the business as innovative, creative and friendly. He and partner Tania Badilla provide fresh produce to buyers in the Southwestern U.S. and beyond. Badilla oversees marketing and finance, while Felix focuses on sales.

Most of the fresh produce it sells is grown in 50 acres of greenhouses, 50 acres of shade houses, and 350 acres of open fields that are owned by relatives or close associates of the company’s owners. About 80% of its produce is grown by Delightful’s owners’ families, Felix said. The remaining 20% is from other growers in Sonora, Mexico.

The main growing entities are Ceiba, Agricola Badilla, Agricola Suakai and Los Pavitos de la Ceiba, which are all in Sonora. The growers are partners in the packing entity El Porvenir.

Delightful’s main items are greenhouse tomatoes and specialty tomatoes, including cocktail, cherry, grape, heirloom and round tomatoes on-the-vine. It also markets sweet corn.

The company’s cocktail tomatoes on-the-vine are branded as Celestial Delights, and its cherry tomatoes on-the-vine are branded as Treasure Sweets. Celestial Delights are available in 1-pound clamshells, and Treasure Sweets are available in 12-ounce mesh bags.

Southwest buyers tend to seek the same kinds of tomatoes that buyers in Eastern markets look for, Felix said. However, there tends to be more varieties of tomatoes in East Coast markets, he said.

“Heirloom tomatoes — we’re (Southwest consumers are) not really used to those tomatoes, but East Coast guys are,” Felix said.

Consumers in the Southwest are likely to see fewer specialty tomatoes when they shop.

“There is not a whole lot of specialty items on the shelf (in Southwest retailers’ tomato categories),” Felix said.

“It’s getting there quicker now because most of the major players that sell specialty (tomatoes) … they’re looking to get some of those items here.”

Felix said he wasn’t sure what’s driving the new interest in specialties in the Southwest, except perhaps that marketers are trying harder to sell them. He said, though, that consumers are probably willing to try new items that look good on the shelf, even if prices are higher.

“That’s been the case for the last couple of years in the Southwest,” Felix said.

Now consumers more often see specialty tomatoes, such as cherry tomatoes on-the-vine and heirloom tomatoes, in major Southwest markets.

This season, Delightful added a category for bell peppers, Felix said. It markets several types of sweet peppers. Felix said he expects to add other kinds of peppers in 2012.

Delighftul has a promotional program with celebrity chef Beau MacMillan from Elements restaurant at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain resort, Paradise Valley, Ariz. MacMillan regularly develops recipes for Delightful, using its products. The recipes are printed on the backs of labels that appear on tomato packages. The recipes eventually will be posted on the company’s website,