A strong pepper market was building in late April and early May, following a couple of supply hiccups in winter, grower-shippers and marketers said.

As of May 7, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1 1/9-bushel cartons of bell peppers from Florida were priced at $18-18.95 for jumbo and extra-large sizes; $14-16.95, large; and $10-12.95 for medium and irregular.

One year earlier, the USDA had reported slightly weaker pricing, at $12.35-14.90 for jumbo and extra-large; $10-12.90, large; and $8-10.90, irregular.

“I’d say it has been fairly reasonable and consistent, with dips here and there,” said Brian Turner, owner of Myakka City, Fla.-based Utopia Packing LLC.

Consistently strong markets

Turner said the market has been more consistent recently than it has been in several years.

Jim Monteith, sales manager for Utopia Packing, said the market should remain strong through the summer.

“You look at the past few years when the deal moved up through central Florida — it moved to the $16-18 range, and that should continue,” he said.

There were only a couple of weak spots in the market during the winter, Monteith said.

“If you look back toward January and February, we had basically $10-12 and even cheaper than that at the end of February,” he said.

He said temporary oversupply was to blame.

“There are a lot of bell peppers grown in southern Florida and you’re competing with the Mexican peppers coming into the United States, as well, and that impacts the market,” he said.

Early May marked a transition time in the market, as Mexico production was winding down and shipments were beginning to move out of fields to the north.

“Accordingly, with reduced availabilities, the market has advanced,” said Mike Aiton, marketing director with Coachella, Calif.-based Prime Time International, which was ramping up pepper production there in the second week of May.

Prime Time anticipated an early start to red peppers this year.

“The Coachella red pepper crop is probably going to be the earliest start ever for us,” Aiton said, noting that the weather had cooperated.

Green pepper production got underway in Coachella at the end of April, or about a week earlier than 2012, Aiton said.

“The green pepper market is stronger than red at the current time,” Aiton said.

The pepper market in general was building strength toward an active promotion season, Aiton said.

Market glut disappears

Hothouse growers in Canada said they are enjoying strong sales.

“All three colors are moving well now,” said Peter Quiring, president of Nature Fresh Farms, which has 130 acres of greenhouse production in Leamington, Ontario.

He said a glut in the market, which had appeared in late February, is gone.

“It’s not excessively high at all, but it’s moving toward where it should be,” he said.

Quiring hesitated to make any predictions for this year’s market.

“At the end of the day, it’s anybody’s guess. It’s like forecasting the weather,” he said.

Joe Sbrocchi, vice president of sales for Mastronardi Produce Ltd., a Kingsville, Ontario-based hothouse grower-shipper, said there will be plenty of peppers of all varieties on the market this year.

“More North American production capability throughout all three countries, as well as Central America, will provide more choice and likely some more competitive retail pricing for consumers over the longer term,” he said.

Many markets in the U.S. experienced rare May snowfalls, and pepper suppliers generally count on warm weather for boosts in sales, Quiring said.

“There’s a lift every year at the end of April, May, June in the market,” he said.

Ben Wiers, vice president of operations for Willard, Ohio-based Wiers Farm, said his company’s pepper sales have grown over the last 10 years and he expects that trend to continue this year.