For many greenhouse vegetable growers, category growth is tilting towards specialty products.

Leamington, Ontario-based Nature Fresh Farms Inc. is growing 78 pepper varieties in trials alone this season, and many of those are specialty varieties, said Jay Colasanti, who works in sales and market development.

“Our intent is to expand our gourmet offerings and specialties in a broad way,” Colasanti said.

That effort will be made considerably easier by the fact that Nature Fresh has acquired the rights to specialties developed and branded by Ruthven, Ontario-based Red Zoo Marketing, Colasanti’s former company.

The former Red Zoo Amorosa tomato and a wide variety of other grape, cherry, strawberry and mini roma tomatoes are among the roster Nature Fresh inherited from Red Zoo.

“They’re already rolling with great success,” Colasanti said. “It was just a natural fit to put them back in the marketplace.”

BC Hot House, Langley, British Columbia, plans a big push on specialty greenhouse vegetables this year, said Kevin Batt, sales director.

“I think the industry’s ready for it,” Batt said. “With the economic downturn, a lot of retailers hunkered down, focused on their core items. Now that things have leveled off, they’re looking to expand, to add vibrancy and color to the produce department.”

Also, he said, retailers are more likely to promote mini peppers, new varieties of cherry tomatoes or other specialties because they’re items that can only be grown in greenhouses.

That, he said, makes them stand out.

“They make beautiful displays, and there’s less shrink,” he said.

BC Hot House is adding pink cherry tomatoes to his Gem line of mixed grape and cherry packs, Batt said.

The company also is adding miniature cocktail cucumbers, mini peppers, 12-ounce cherry tomato Vexar packs and 10½-ounce Easy Bite grape packs.

Batt said the company will reintroduce its Taste Buddy line of characters to its smaller, kid-friendly items.

BC Hot House also is test-marketing baby eggplant, mini cocktail cucumbers and midsize bell peppers this year.

“We’ve got a lot of new stuff on the burner,” Batt said. “We’re pretty excited.”

The specialty category is one of the fastest-growing in the greenhouse vegetable industry, said Doug Kling, chief sales and marketing officer for Village Farms, Eatontown, N.J.

Village Farms reports increasing demand for specialties including cocktail tomatoes, sweet peppers and mini cucumbers, Kling said.

Ruthven, Ontario-based Clifford Produce is increasing production this year on four of its recently introduced specialty packs, said Anthony Totta, the company’s marketing director.

In the specialty tomato category, Clifford is planning big pushes on its D’Vine 16-ounce cocktail clamshells, Fusion 1-pint clams and Grape Roma 10-ounce triangle-shaped baby plum packs, Totta said.

The company also expects strong demand for its Mystic two-count sweet pepper bag.