Grower-shippers say they like to think bell peppers are a staple for consumers, but acknowledge they might not yet be on everyone’s shopping lists. That’s good news because it means there’s still room for growth.

Mike Aiton, marketing director for Prime Time International, Coachella, Calif., said the pepper category is an exciting one with steadily increasing sales. In the past, sweet red peppers were a minor item in the produce department, but now they’re being promoted on front pages of ads.

“Everywhere you look, you see colored peppers,” he said. “They’re on frozen pizza, in frozen meals, in salads, all over the place.”

Craig Laker, sales director for BC Hot House Foods Inc., Langley, British Columbia, said bell peppers just this year cracked the list of 100 top-selling produce items in one customers’ chain of retail supermarkets.

Kevin Batt, greenhouse category manager for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group credits retailers with doing a good job of promoting the category. Shoppers are learning that colored bells are not hot and that they are versatile ingredients.

“More people are willing to extend themselves to try different varieties of peppers,” Batt said.

Bell peppers have become important to the produce department, said Greg Cardamone, general manager of the vegetable division for L&M Cos. Inc., Raleigh, N.C.

Demand for bell peppers dropped slightly this year because of high prices, and some customers carried smaller inventories, he said. But those are normal reactions to the market, and demand will likely recover as prices drop.

Batt said greenhouse growers can provide year-round consistent supplies of high quality peppers, allowing retailers to place ads with confidence and without worries about shortages from weather problems.

Oppenheimer markets greenhouse-grown bell peppers from SunSelect Produce Inc., Aldergrove, British Columbia, and from Divemex SA, Guadalajara, Mexico.

The key to increasing consumption of bell peppers might be to focus on getting people to eat more colored bells instead of green ones, Laker said.

“A green bell pepper is unripened,” he said. “It’s a little bitter. The colored bell peppers are much sweeter and they have more vitamin C, so they’re better for you.”

A half-cup serving of green bell pepper has 60% of the daily value of vitamin C, while a serving of red bell pepper has 240%.

Unfortunately, Laker said, some consumers still think colored bell peppers might be hot, not sweet.

Brian Beggs, president of BC Hot House, suggested retailers place more educational signs near colored bell peppers to inform consumers that they taste sweet. He also suggested doing demonstrations and samplings with colored bells.

Promotions and pricing

Aiton recommended putting one member of the pepper category on a promotion each week, with signs telling shoppers how the pepper tastes and how it’s best served or used in recipes.

He said he thinks most consumers now know that elongated and bell peppers are not hot, but many remain confused about chili peppers.

Laker said that having Costco carry BC Hot House’s colored bell peppers has helped increase consumption by getting more people to try them.

BC Hot House packs a 6-count bag of red bell peppers and a 6-count bag of red, yellow and orange bell peppers for Costco.

Batt said he’s seeing more retailers price bell peppers on a per-pepper basis instead of per pound.

He said per-pepper prices are good because shoppers know immediately how much a pepper costs instead of weighing it themselves and calculating its price or waiting until they reach the cash registers.

The decision to buy can be made more quickly.

Batt said he thinks produce department scales are becoming obsolete, even though there still are a lot of items priced per pound.

“That won’t go away, but some are looking at the option of pricing per each,” he said.

Displaying peppers

Batt said one good idea is to display bags of bell peppers next to bagged salads. It’s simpler for customers to pick up both if they’re right next to each other.

Peppers also can be displayed near tomatoes, and because they don’t need to be refrigerated, they can be displayed in off shelf.

A big display of peppers also is good because vibrantly colored peppers merchandise well on their own, Batt said.
“There are so many colors and sizes and shapes of peppers,” Aiton said. “It makes a striking display, with rainbows you can build in and color breaks you can do.”

BC Hot House has encouraged retailers to try a different approach of mixing green, red, yellow and orange bell peppers together on display racks.

“It didn’t go over well because most retailers want color breaks on their rack, which is fine,” he said.

It could be worth a try in some markets because it might help shoppers realize colored bell peppers are sweet, too.

Color breaks created by dividing bell peppers into single-color rows do make for an interesting and colorful display.

Other opportunities for retailers include private-label multi-count bags for peppers, Batt said. It’s a trend that’s spreading from the grocery section to the produce department.