( Courtesy Young Guns Inc. )

With the domestic chili pepper deal approaching, chili producers and marketers are preparing for a season of flavor. 

“We have had exceptional growing conditions, and the plants are thriving,” said Chris Franzoy, president of Young Guns Inc., a Hatch chili pepper company. “Coming out of a very tough year last year, we’re excited about this year’s crop.”

With the transition over to the domestic chili crop beginning in June and continuing until October, everything looks like it is on course.

“From this year to last year at this time, we are up about 5% as a (chili pepper) category, and we’ve seen that growth anywhere from 5 to 10% on average every year,” said Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce

“In the last three years, we’ve seen some of the most significant growth in the chili pepper category.”

World Variety Produce sells 15 or 16 fresh varieties and about 16 or 17 dried varieties from top-demanded peppers like jalapeños, serranos, Anaheims, poblanos, habaneros and shishitos to hot peppers like the scorpion and the reaper. 

While a couple of varieties come from Florida, most of the U.S. chilies come from California.

In bulk, fresh chilies are available in 5-, 10-, 20- or 40-pound units. In retail, fresh chilies are packaged in smaller bags like 1- or 2-pound grab and go bags. Dried chilies are available in 3-ounce, 6-ounce or 1-pound packages.

Young Guns sells fresh varieties in 10- or 25-pound bulk high-graphic boxes. It sells frozen peppers in 1-pound pouches. Shelf stable packages are available in 16- and 30-ounce containers.

Schueller explained that the company has seen a slight increase in the dried chili category; however, the fresh category is the main driving factor for the whole chili category, making up about 85% of chilies sold in stores across the U.S.

“The demand for our Young Guns peppers is really consistent from one year to the next,” Franzoy said. 

“Consumers over the last three years have really learned to trust our brand because it’s consistent from one year to the next.”

Marketers and retailers see chili peppers being used in different recipes from salsa, green chili stew and pizza to lasagna, ice cream and wine. During the summer months, they see grilling as a common cooking style.

“U.S. national barbecue season started on Memorial Day and goes through typically Labor Day,” Schueller said. “A lot of people are roasting their peppers out on their barbecues or outside grills.”

The Hatch chili has always been the big grilling chili because it is the most popular chili during the August and September months here in the United States. 

Young Guns supplies the Hatch pepper in mild, medium, hot and extra hot heat levels — the more popular being medium and hot.

“The peppers are grown in the Hatch Valley, and we grow them ourselves,” Franzoy said. “We have a very large family there and a lot of acres of land that the family manages and owns.”

Hatch peppers are in season for about only 7 weeks, so it is a time when people stock up. 

“Retailers really get behind these programs in the summer when our harvest begins and they try to create what they call a Hatch chili fest where they bring in the peppers and they set up these roasting machines and they just make an event out of it, and it’s fun for consumers,” Franzoy said. “It’s a great way for retailers to interact and it really drives traffic in the store.”

World Variety Produce’s grab and go packages are trendy for the company right now. Franzoy of Young Guns also said it is seeing more requests for pre-packaged items. This is partly due to COVID-19. 

“In lieu of COVID more Americans stayed home, and I think they started cooking more,” Franzoy said.  

Franzoy said that Young Guns provides recipes or links to recipes on its website to help promote its chili peppers. While he is enthusiastic about people cooking from home, Franzoy also wants to encourage consumers to support local businesses. 

“The message we want to send out is just continue to support local businesses and promote American agriculture. Buy local. Buy domestic,” Franzoy said. 

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