The markets for chili peppers continue to heat up with customer preferences for hotter products, suppliers say.

Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos., which ships a full roster of vegetables, has seen its chili pepper shipments rise, said Shay Kennedy, sales specialist and product manager for chilies on the East Coast at L&M’s Moultrie, Ga., growing operation.

“We ship chili peppers year round from the growing areas of Florida, Georgia, Michigan and Nogales (Ariz.), and we continue to increase our acreage with chili peppers each year,” Kennedy said.

Red hot market for chili peppersKennedy said markets were “very strong this season” in Florida and “came off some” when Georgia started, but that decline had leveled off by the end of June.

“The quality has been exceptional and the movement very good,” she said.

L&M has seen jalepeño peppers continue to pace the category, Kennedy said.

“The jalapeños remain the most popular of the chili peppers. However, long hots, cubanelles, Hungarian wax are also very popular,” she said.

L&M grows all of those varieties, as well as serranos, finger hots, red fresnos, anaheims, habaneros and caribes, Kennedy said.

Sales for all varieties are increasing across the country, she said.

“The Chicago, New York and Cleveland markets purchase a lot of chili peppers,” she said.

As of July 7, 1 1/9-bushel cartons of Anaheim peppers from Mexico were priced at $17-18, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Jalapñnos were $12-13; poblanos, $11-12; and serranos, $17-18.

A year earlier, shipments of anaheim peppers from Mexico in the same size carton were $17-20; jalapeños and poblanos, $14-17; and serranos, $12-16.

Niche varieties, such as habanero, poblano and Mesilla peppers, seem to be gaining traction said Edward Ogaz, owner of Seco Spice Co., a grower-shipper in Berino, N.M.

“That seems to be a growing market, and so does organic,” Ogaz said.

Prices have been steady, Ogaz said.

“They’re not climbing, but I think America is looking for more domestic product, which is helping domestically grown products, obviously, and that’s helping us processors and producers here in the U.S.,” he said.

The New Mexico growing season appeared to be on track for a normal start, in late July, said Bill Coombs, salesman with Desert Springs Produce in Arrey, N.M.

The company grows mild, hot and extra-hot green chilies, he said.

Coombs said the markets for each were expanding.

“In the past, it was considered a Southwest item, but we have chains in the Midwest using them,” Coombs said.

Coombs said growth had been noticeable in Northeast markets.

“There’s more and more people that know how to prepare them and use them in their cooking,” Coombs said.

“It’s an exciting new item for us and familiar to the general populace of the country now.”

New Mexico has been enduring drought problems for the past couple of years, but the dry conditions don’t necessarily adversely affect chili pepper production, said Stephanie Walker, a researcher and vegetable specialist with New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.

“It’s very dry and that does help us because it greatly reduces the number of foliar diseases we get,” she said of the dry conditions and high elevations in the New Mexico pepper production areas.

“After the monsoon season starts, we occasionally get issues with powdery mildew, but oftentimes that’s so late in the season it doesn’t hurt us at all.”

The chili pepper season typically hits peak production from early August until late September “or the first freeze,” Walker said.

The ongoing drought hasn’t posed any serious problems, said Ogaz, who said his company’s annual production is in the 10 million-pound range.

“I think we’re still fine,” he said. “Dry weather sometimes is very good for us. Actually, it’s not the lack of water that’s going to kill us, it’s the increase in salt. That’s the key.”