U.S. Census figures show Hispanics have solidified their position as the most populous minority in the U.S., and demographers predict that trend will grow.
That bodes well for specialty pepper sales, according to pepper marketing agents.
“They’re increasing in sales, and we believe this trend is directly related to the increase in our country’s Hispanic and Asian populations,” said Darren Micelle, marketing officer for Immokalee, Fla.-based Six L’s Packing Co. Inc.
A proliferation of restaurants offering Mexican or Mexican-American cuisine has fueled the growth trend in specialty pepper sales, said Javier Gonzalez, category manager for Edinburg, Texas-based grower-shipper Frontera Produce LLC, which markets jalapeños, anaheims and other specialty varieties.
“I’ve always thought it had a lot to do with more choices, as far as restaurant chains,” he said.
“You’ve got restaurants like Chipotle (Mexican Grill) that are feeding more of the mainstream and are bringing some of these items more readily into the American culture.”
Expect those trends to continue, said Damon Barkdull, salesman with Uesugi Farms Inc., Gilroy, Calif.
“I think the demographics in all states are changing with a Hispanic-based culture and you have channels like the Food Network that give the everyday Americans an idea of how to use these products, so it’s the media and changing demographics that’s kind of allowed us to push chilis to an audience that might not ordinarily buy them,” he said.
“I also think it’s willingness of retailers to try different things.”
It isn’t just the Hispanic consumers who are buying more specialties, said Jim Monteith, sales manager for the vegetable department of Immokalee-based Pacific Collier Fresh Co.
“Everybody using them now,” he said.
Novelty is a marketing concept with specialty varieties, said Kevin Batt, sales director with Langley, British Columbia-based BC Hot House Foods Inc.
“Consumers are more educated and willing to try new and exciting varieties, such as BC Hot House Mini Peps, which offer high sweetness and taste profile that consumers are craving,” Batt said.
Raleigh, N.C.-based pepper grower-shipper L&M Cos. also noted an increased interest in specialty varieties, said Greg Cardamone, general manager of the company’s vegetable category.
“We’re doing quite a few specialty peppers in Florida this year and seeing pretty good demand for it,” he said.
“I’m not sure what’s driving it. It’s something we’d try again. We’ve grown them before. They’re doing OK.”
Delray Beach, Fla.-based Pero Family Farms Food Co. LLC offers a mini sweet pepper, which has done well, said Ed Sullivan, chief marketing officer.
“Mini sweet sales are very strong for us,” he said.
“I think what drives that product is it’s a very high-content vitamin C product. It’s very tasty and flexible. You can eat them raw with a dip, grill them, or make stir-fry. They’re smaller so you don’t have a lot of waste. They’re all red and yellow and very sweet.”