(March 25, 12:05 p.m.) CHELSEA, Mass. — Growing populations of Asian, Hispanic, Eastern European and other immigrants in the Boston area and throughout Massachusetts continue to translate into strong sales of ethnic items for local wholesalers.

It would seem logical that in a recession, staples sell better than exotic imports targeted at niche ethnic markets.

But in the case of The Alphas Cos., sales of iceberg lettuce and other staples have been down, and sales of Thai chilies, Indian eggplants and other ethnic imports have been up, said Yanni Alphas, president and chief executive officer.

“Our bright spot has been our Indian and Asian lines,” he said.

An influx of immigrants from India and Asia is driving those higher sales, Alphas said. The year-round programs are sourced from the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Costa Rica. The company also is exploring sourcing Asian and Indian specialty items from Mexico.

In November 2007, Frank Lisitano, president of Lisitano Produce Co., hired salesman Arnold Amidom. With Amidom came an addition to Lisitano Produce — an Asian produce line.

“He came in here, familiar with that line, and I said we’d try it,” Lisitano said. “He’s done very well.”

Space in the Lisitano warehouse formerly devoted to the company’s cantaloupe and honeydew line was given over to Amidom’s Asian line.

Thai chilies, cooking papayas, green mangoes, garlic, ginger and Chinese, Thai and Indian eggplant are among the top-selling Asian items for Lisitano Produce, Amidom said.

“It’s a growing business,” and one driven by the increasing numbers of Cambodians, Vietnamese, Chinese and other Asian immigrant groups in the Boston area, Amidom said.

In addition to its Asian line, Lisitano Produce, with Amidom in the lead, also sells jalapeños, habaneros, Florida avocados, red papayas, chayote and other items aimed at the growing number of Central Americans, Dominicans and other Hispanic groups in the Boston area, Amidom said.

Peter John Condakes, president of Peter Condakes Co. Inc., said his company, like many other Boston wholesalers, is selling more commodities targeted for ethnic markets than in the past.

“We have a pretty broad array of Hispanic items, and we’re selling more Asian vegetables than we did two years ago,” he said. “We compete with Chinatown on the Asian, so sometimes that’s hard.”

Okinawan and Hawaiian sweet potatoes are among the company’s top Asian sellers, Condakes said. In the run-up to Chinese New Year, the company moves abundant volumes of Asian pears, persimmons and other holiday favorites.

And while not exactly exotic, tangerines and navel oranges from Florida also are big Chinese New Year sellers.

Ethnic markets continue to provide a vital customer base for companies such as BC Produce Inc., said Sam Rocco, president.

And many of those markets are relatively new.

“There are a lot of ethnic markets here, and we’ve seen an expansion in them in the middle and western part of Massachusetts,” he said.

The strength of ethnic markets plays a role in BC’s product roster. For instance, clementines are not among the company’s citrus offerings, Rocco said.

The reason?

“They’re poorer people looking for a good price,” he said, and clementines are not typically among the lower-priced citrus items.

Polish, Russian and Turkish customers are among those who buy from BC on the New England Produce Terminal, Rocco said.

Not only are they good customers, Rocco said, but many foreign transplants BC sells to are excellent role models.

“You meet these immigrant groups, and they’re such good, good people,” he said. “They’re hard workers. One Turkish man I know, his wife and children are still back in Turkey. He works 20 hours a day, six or seven days a week. I have such respect for him.”