Chilies trail more popular bells

05/14/2010 02:11:54 PM
Susie Cable

Grower-shippers say U.S. consumers might buy more chili peppers if they knew more about their flavors, heat and uses.

There’s still a lot of confusion among some consumers about chili peppers, said Mike Aiton, marketing director for Prime Time International, Coachella, Calif.

He recommended placing signs near pepper displays to inform shoppers which ones are hot or mild, and whether they’re best for particular recipes or to serve fresh in salads.

“Something saying it’s hot or spicy, or this is what you get when you order chili rellenos in a restaurant,” he said.

Many consumers are still afraid to try chili peppers because they think all of them are hot, said Javier Gonzalez, director of category management for Edinburg, Texas-based Frontera Produce LLC. Providing recipes and options for their use might eliminate some concerns.

“Educating consumers and showing them simple recipes … that don’t require them to have a master’s degree in Mexican cooking” will add sales, he said.

It’s important to keep convenience in mind, Gonzalez said. Some chilies require only washing and slicing before being put on salads or sandwiches. Others can simply be washed and grilled. Or retailers might suggest that shoppers pick up a few ingredients, such as chili peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos and cilantro, to put in the blender for salsa.

“If it requires five steps before you eat it, that’s a problem,” Gonzalez said.

Frontera markets a core mix of anaheim, poblano, serrano and jalapeño peppers, most of which are grown in Mexico. In late April, Frontera’s growers were waiting for some areas to start production. Some that would normally have started by then had been delayed by a couple weeks because of a relatively cold and wet winter, Gonzalez said.

Prices for 1 1/9-bushel cartons of jalapeño peppers through McAllen, Texas, sold for $24-25 in late April, Gonzalez said. A typical price at that time of year would be $18-20, but volumes were lower than normal.

On May 10, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices for 1 1/9-bushel cartons of Mexico-grown jalapeño peppers crossing through Texas were $18-20. Cartons of poblano peppers and serrano peppers were priced at $14-15 and $26-28, respectively.

Chilies are a major commodity in Mexico, and dynamics in the wholesale market there strongly influence the markets in the U.S., Gonzalez said.

Prime Time started picking anaheim, jalapeño and yellow chilies in Coachella on April 29, Aiton said. It’s a small and seasonal deal that is expected to last through June.


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