Despite this year’s unprecedented high prices on bell peppers, the market should fall throughout May, when domestic production peaks and supplies return to normal.

In early April, some green bell peppers were priced at more than $50 a carton. Prices should drop throughout May, when domestic and European volumes begin, said Kevin Batt, greenhouse category manager for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group.

With some growers in Mexico expected to continue shipping peppers through May, and growers in California, Canada and Holland entering the market, prices were expected to level out by mid- to late May, he said.

Mike Aiton, marketing director for grower-shipper Prime Time International, Coachella, Calif., on April 29 said bell pepper prices will likely bottom out by about June 1. He expected prices to come down to half or less than half of what they were in late April.

On April 29, prices for 15-pound cartons of extra-fancy, extra-large green bell peppers were at $30.95, Aiton said.

“Once we hit the first of June, that flips over,” Aiton said of the high prices. “The seasonal anomalies go away and we’re back in peak production.”

Larger green bell peppers from Florida remained at a premium in late April, said Greg Cardamone, general manager of Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc.’s vegetable division. Jumbo green bell peppers were $40 on April 23, about double the typical price for that time of year. By May 10, prices were $10.35-12.85.

L&M in late April shipped green bell peppers on the East Coast and all colors of bell peppers out of Mexico through Nogales, Ariz. It moved into new fields in southern Florida and saw its best production since January, Cardamone said.

Production was expected to move into northern Florida by mid-May and into Georgia by June 1.
Cardamone said he expects the market to be back to normal by early June, with good quality and yields.

Colored bells

In late April, cartons of red bell peppers from British Columbia were about double last year’s prices, said Craig Laker, sales director for BC Hot House Foods Inc., Langley, British Columbia.

Growers hoped prices would continue in the high teens to low 20s until late May. Prices will likely drop after that, and again in late August or early September, when more local growers are in production in British Columbia. By then, peppers could be at $8-12, Laker said.

Grower SunSelect Produce Inc., Aldergrove, British Columbia, started shipping colored bell peppers in early April, Batt said. Oppenheimer markets SunSelect peppers.

SunSelect’s production, from April through October, complements production from Oppenheimer’s Mexican bell pepper supplier, Guadalajara, Mexico-based Divemex SA. Divemex’s heaviest production is from December through June, Batt said.

SunSelect’s production is expected to be slightly more this season than last because it added 10 more acres, bringing its total to 70 acres of bell peppers.

Aiton expected Prime Time to be shipping red and green bell peppers from Coachella and red, yellow, orange and green bell peppers from San Diego by mid-May. June, when Coachella’s peak production is expected, is a good time for red bell pepper promotions, he said. Promotions and advertisements need to be scheduled so California’s pepper crop can be marketed.

“The crop can’t be moved at the prices we’re at right now,” Aiton said. “We encourage everyone not to write off peppers. We can have a big impact by promoting them and getting people back in the habit of buying them.”

Prime Time provides a year-round supply of bell peppers. After Coachella, Prime Time’s harvesting moves to Bakersfield, Calif., then to the coast near Oxnard, Calif. Later it moves back to Mexico.

Unripened reds

Some growers in Mexico and Canada took advantage of the high market for green bell peppers by harvesting red bells when they were still green, grower-shippers said. That created tight supplies of red bell peppers, which were beginning to increase by the week of April 19.

For BC Hot House, the early picking meant its Mexican colored bell pepper season ended early, Laker said. The company finished its Mexican season in early April. It began shipping British Columbia-grown peppers in March, but supplies of colored bells were tight for a couple of weeks.

By late April, supplies of Canadian peppers were increasing steadily, Laker said.

BC Hot House supplies red, yellow and orange bell peppers and a small volume of green bell peppers, which it picks primarily for stoplight packages.