“Protected environment is in wider use,” he said.
“It helps control against pests and diseases, and offers a much longer growing season.”
The initial investment in getting a greenhouse vegetable program up and running is huge, Aiton said, but the investment is such a good one, companies can earn it back relatively quickly.
In fact, in some cases growers can’t get greenhouse up fast enough.
“As the category continues to grow, the industry struggles to keep pace,” Aiton said.
People are willing to pay more for greenhouse-grown, Aiton said. Besides, he said, when it comes to cost, it’s all relative.
“They’re still a bargain,” he said of greenhouse products.
All you have to do is look at the increasing number of options to see the success of the hothouse pepper business, Aiton said.
“People are adding other SKUs,” he said.
“It’s indicative of the overall growth in the colored bell category as the years have gone by.”
When it comes to Prime Time’s greenhouse colored bell foodservice customers, demand tilts toward the lower-quality choice-grade product, Aiton said.
It’s a question of quantity versus quality, Aiton said. When the peppers are cut, cooked and presented with other foods, it’s less important that they achieve the eye appeal so essential to retail marketing of produce.
“Foodservice is more interested in volume,” he said.
The growing demand for greenhouse peppers that Aiton has noticed in recent years applies to retail and foodservice.
“Every restaurant has peppers on their menu now,” he said.
And it’s not just white-tablecloth restaurants and family dining establishments, either, Aiton said. Even fast-food has caught on that colored bells are an item that is growing in popularity with U.S. consumers — and greenhouse product plays a big role in meeting that growing demand.
December promises to be a month of brisk movement and strong demand for Western greenhouse product, Aiton said.
Particularly compared to the winter of 2009-10.
“Last year, higher Canadian and Mexican production drove the price down,” Aiton said Dec. 2.
“This year, I expect the price to be high for the next four weeks. Between now and Christmas is a peak period.”
After the holidays, and looking further ahead, Aiton expects a return to normality after last season. While greenhouse pepper supplies were plentiful last winter, the historic freezes in the southeast late last winter and last spring produced just the opposite effect.
Peppers that normally would have been allowed to continue growing until they went from green to red, yellow and orange were harvested green to fill the void left in Florida.