Color and value rank among the top retail trends for peppers this year, marketing agents say.

“Traditionally bell peppers have been sold on the wet rack, but more retailers are finding the natural color assortment appealing for larger, dry displays,” said Aaron Quon, greenhouse category director for the Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia.

“Dry rack displays can also increase quality and shelf life. We’re starting to see more of this in value-oriented chains, as retailers are discovering that a large display can add freshness and drive sales.”

Darren Micelle, chief marketing officer with Immokalee, Fla.-based Six L’s Packing Co., said he had seen a similar trend.

“We are starting to see more emphasis on colored peppers and the packaging associated with them,” Micelle said.

Frontera Produce LLC, Edinburg, Texas, is always looking to help retail customers come up with new ideas to emphasize peppers in their produce displays, said Javier Gonzalez, the company’s Miami-based category manager.

“I sell a lot of bulk to wholesalers who repack on 5-pounders or 10-pounders for regional distribution. That seems to be increasing,” Gonzalez said.

The category has plenty of room for development at retail, Gonzalez said.

“I think we have a long ways to go with the category, getting retailers who are driven by demographics, beyond the HEBs or other major chains,” he said.

“They don’t know what to do with it. They give it 1 square foot. When we approach somebody like that, we’ll put a mix together and tell them how they can mix and match to create a bigger area for ethnic or Hispanic for your chilies.”

The warm-weather seasons help put shoppers in the mood to buy more peppers, Gonzalez said.

“The spring and summer season helps to a degree,” he said.

“Once all these volume items are done, we sort of scheme on how to increase consumption. Beyond that, I wish more retailers would get behind these items, but for the time being, I think we’ll see what happens in the next transition period and look at summer as an opportunity to get some big numbers.”

But summer also brings its own pitfalls, namely, homegrown peppers that compete strongly, Gonzalez said.

“In the summer, there’s all kinds of local production to face, so while it’s easier to get them to promote, they want to promote their local stuff, which we mostly don’t carry,” he said.

Color is a big draw to peppers at retail, said Steve Yubeta, vice president of sales with Nogales, Ariz.-based Farmer’s Best International LLC.

“It seems like a lot of people are doing more of getting different colors,” he said.

“They’re asking to do greens, reds and yellows. Then, there’s the trend to going heavy to one or the other after the troubles we went through. Where people saw the green pepper market was high priced they were utilizing the reds to supplement the green market at certain times. A month ago, there was a great value using reds instead of greens.”

A lot of retailers have gone back to basics to sell peppers, said Greg Cardamone, general manager of vegetables for L&M Cos., Raleigh, N.C.

“There’s not as much value-added packaging out there as there used to be, and they’re trying to drive price points to keep customers, give them more for them to spend,” he said.

Retailers also are having some success in offering more pepper varieties, said Mike Aiton, marketing director for Prime Time International, Coachella, Calif.

“I think one of the biggest trends is in expanding the SKU (stock-keeping unit) selection of peppers,” Aiton said.

“Peppers continue to be a growing category. We’re looking at a lot more variety and people using them in a wide variety of applications. The category is kind of booming. This is the third year in a row of significant growth in sales and production for us.”

Spring holidays can bring a bump in sales, and retailers can help move that along, said Damon Barkdull, salesman for Gilroy, Calif.-based Uesugi Farms Inc.

“Obviously, as far as chili peppers go, Cinco de Mayo is very big,” he said.

“Generally, with specialties, a lot of people still consider specialties. A lot of that is tied to Cinco de Mayo. You have your regular ethnicities that use chilies, but to get that extra bump we rely on Cinco de Mayo and other holidays to get volume moving.”

Seasonal spikes in volume can lead to consumer-friendly pricing, too, Barkdull said.

“It’s one of those things a retailer puts on ad about once a month, whether it’s red or green bells, especially in summer when prices are reasonable,” he said.

“Out of California, we typically get good weather and don’t suffer like guys out of the Southeast. We have steady supplies and good promotable prices.”

Langley, British Columbia-based BC Hot House Foods Inc. has numerous retail promotions planned this year, said Kevin Batt, sales director.

Among the plans are “greenhouse themed ads, full red/yellow/orange peppers displays, waterfall and off-shelf displays, (and) cross-promoting during seasonal ads (with) 2-pound pepper bags during case-lots sales and fall promotions,” he said.

“Also, BC Hot House adds recipes and grower bios to help consumers with origin and cooking options.”