What pepper marketers have been doing to get new varieties into the hands and shopping baskets of consumers seems to be working.

According to the Nielsen Perishables Group, West Dundee, Ill., varieties other than green and red sweet bell peppers showed the most dramatic sales volume growth from last February to this February.

Uesugi Farms Inc., based in Gilroy, Calif., places its specialty emphasis on ghost peppers, said Damon Barkdull, salesman.

“Like anything in specialties, people are looking for something new to offer their customers,” he said.

Ghost peppers are not the briskest-selling item, but it does help to stir interest in the pepper category, Barkdull said.

“It will create some volume in the produce department, bring in that consumer that’s looking for something a little bit different,” Barkdull said.

The ghost, or bhut jolokia, pepper, ranked on the Scoville scale as one of the hottest peppers on the market, gets a lot of requests, he said.

“People ask us all the time, ‘Who’s out there selling that thing? Is it the Hispanic retail chain or the higher-end retail chain?’” Barkdull said.

It’s a fast-seller in the Midwest, he said.

Mini sweets

Miniature sweet peppers are gaining popularity for Coachella, Calif.-based Prime Time International, but there are plenty of other varieties that do well there, said Mike Aiton, marketing director.

“We have anaheim, jalapeño, yellow peppers and a few fresno peppers, and I think we have a good complement of all sizes, shapes and flavors of peppers,” Aiton said.

Marketing those items is best left to individual retailers, he said.

“But certainly the most important thing is to put out their flavor profiles and what their usages are, because I think there’s confusion, even with the mini sweet peppers. People see the red peppers in the bag and think they must be hot because they’re smaller and they have that shape of the hotter ones,” he said.

It’s an educational process that familiarizes consumers to an array of flavor profiles, Aiton said.

“It’s not unusual for a conventional produce department to have 12 different stock-keeping units of peppers and sometimes even more,” he said.

Flavors, color combinations and display formats can vary, but all can work well, said Peter Quiring, president of Nature Fresh Farms, a Leamington, Ontario-based hothouse grower-shipper.

“Some are going in bags, a lot of them are being displayed loose on the shelf and there’s a price per pound, and they’re sold a lot like bell peppers,” he said.

Flavor experimentation

Consumers are looking for new flavors, and it’s good to make as many available as possible, said Ben Wiers, vice president of operation for Wiers Farm in Willard, Ohio.

Consumers also are looking to experiment at home, Wiers said.

“They make their own salsas when it’s in their season locally, so I think we’re seeing some additional growth and product movement through that,” he said.

Demographics also are playing a role.

“The Hispanic population has grown in the U.S. also, so that’s another reason for it,” Wiers said.

New varieties need multiple trials to gain traction, said Joe Sbrocchi, vice president of sales with Kingsville, Ontario-based greenhouse pepper grower-shipper Mastronardi Produce Ltd.

“Inducing trial is a key tactic, multiple times over the course of an introductory campaign,” he said.

“Try for at least 10 customer interactions to create the necessary traction in usage.”