Chili peppers have found devoted followings among U.S. retailers, who are coming up with effective ways to merchandise the product to consumers, suppliers said.
“A lot of them, over the past few years, have had a roasting affair,” said Bill Coombs, salesman with Arrey, N.M.-based grower-shipper Desert Springs Produce.
Stores sometimes set up a chili roaster in their parking lots and customers have product they have purchased roasted on-site as they come out of the building, Coombs said.
“That’s a big part of what they do at stores in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico,” Coombs said.
Customers in those states also have an advantage of purchasing freshly harvested product, which melds with a growing homegrown movement, Coombs said.
“People come here all the time and buy onions and green chili, come with cash and buy at the shed,” he said.
“We have people coming in here every day all day long.”
Suppliers say foodservice has lagged behind retail as a market for green chilies, but restaurants are making strides.
“The chefs are always looking for something new, something different,” Coombs said.
“Hot is a flavor profile that’s pretty popular right now with the chefs, so I think it has a lot of potential there.”
Berino, N.M.-based Seco Spice Co. is finding success in offering retail customers organic chili peppers, said Edward Ogaz, owner of the grower-shipper.
“In the organic world, you have Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, a lot of giants, and it’s pretty well established,” he said.
Organics have challenges, but customers like them, Ogaz said. About 20% of his production is organic, he said.
“The certification part is difficult in the field and facility through the tracking, but we have certifiers on that end of it,” he said.
The venture into organic green chilies has been worth the trouble, Ogaz said.
“In the organic world, it doesn’t take much to get this growth going rather quickly, and it has grown,” he said.
“It’s still not as big as the conventional world, but it can grow quickly — about the same pace of the organic category.”
Ogaz said he lets his buyers handle the marketing aspect, so as not to interfere with them.
“We try very hard not to go retail to stand out that way, because then we find ourselves in competition with our buyer,” he said.
“I kind of work it through them and they market it accordingly. It makes for the best of both worlds.”
The best way to showcase chili peppers at retail is through promotions, said Chris Franzoy, owner of Hatch, N.M.-based Young Guns Produce.
“We encourage the retailer to set up the chili roasting machine at store level,” he said.
The foodservice category remains more a realm for processed product, Franzoy said.
“We don’t sell any fresh to the restaurants, but we do offer frozen product to them, and it seems to do well,” he said.