Hatch August at Rouses
Rouses got the first Hatch chiles of the season for a sneak peek of its Hatch August focus on the specialty pepper. ( Rouses Markets and Associated Wholesale Grocers )

Rouses Markets has big plans for Hatch chile season.

The Thibodaux, La.-based retailer is making the favorite seasonal pepper the focus of total-store events throughout late July and August.

Rouses procured the first Hatch chiles of the year in mid-July for a sneak peek event in Baton Rouge, La., that featured roasting in front of the store, fresh and roasted Hatch chiles in the produce department, and numerous products from the other fresh departments that incorporate Hatch chiles.

“It’s not just for produce; it’s for the entire store,” said director of produce Rob Ybarra. “We’re going to make Hatch chile burgers, Hatch sausage, Hatch brownies, Hatch cornbread, even the seafood department’s going to partake in the fun and do some things with Hatch crabcakes, so we’re planning the entire month of August as Hatch August, and we’ve got all of our stores laser-focused on creating an event around Hatch, around the beautiful flavor of Hatch.”

The season for the pepper usually lasts roughly 5-6 weeks, and the sweet spot is the first three weeks of August, Ybarra said. Each of those weeks, 16 Rouses locations will be doing events focused on Hatch chile peppers, with roasting outside, for a total of 48 stores over the three weeks.

“It’s almost like a Hatch traveling roadshow,” Ybarra said.

Hatch chile roasting is a favorite summer event in a number of locales, but the events will look different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and required safety precautions, which include wearing masks and following social distancing practices. That being the case, sampling won’t be happening this year, but Ybarra said he’s confident the events can still engage consumers even though they won’t look quite like they have before.

Another element of the events that will be different this year is the timing; this season, they will take place on Friday afternoons and Saturdays.

“It’s quite interesting that before, Sunday was our biggest selling day of the week, and now it’s Friday,” Ybarra said. “During this COVID-19 pandemic, Friday has become our No. 1 day for sales, so we’ve changed it around a little bit due to COVID.”

Outdoor events are a regular part of the schedule for Rouses.

“We have crawfish boils out there when it’s crawfish season, every Friday we do baby back ribs,” Ybarra said. “The customers here really love our outside events ... It’s food theater, and they really love it. We love doing it every weekend, so it just ties in nicely to the food theater events of the week.”