Importers expect promotable volumes of high-quality sugar snap and snow peas, French beans and other Central American vegetables this winter.

In December, volumes of sugar snap and snow peas from Guatemala were ramping up for Southern Specialties Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla., said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development.

Both items will be available in 10-pound bulk containers and 8-ounce microwaveable packs, Eagle said. In addition, sugar snaps will be packed in 2-pound convenience packs.

All items will be packed in new Southern Select packaging the company introduced in 2010, Eagle said.

One objective of the new packaging rollout was to extend the Southern brand further into club stores and the microwaveable category.

It’s worked. Southern now offers 10 items in its microwaveable lineup.

“Since we introduced the new packaging, we’ve experienced significant lift in sales, and we continue to expand the line,” Eagle said.

“Customers have typically more year over year sales when compared to other vendors. That’s really encouraging.”

It’s not that the Southern Selects line is priced lower than the competition, Eagle said. Customers respond to the presentation of the Southern brand.

The company knows — it commissioned surveys before launching the packaging, gauging consumer wants and needs. 

The Southern Select line was introduced in 2002, and Southern Specialties has expanded it every year since, Eagle said.

Also on tap for this winter from Central America, Southern Specialties plans to bring in French beans and hand-peeled baby carrots with tops from Guatemala, Eagle said.

The company’s French beans will ship in a variety of packaging options, including 8-ounce, 1-pound and 2-pound packs, Eagle said.

Demand continues to be strong for the hand-peeled baby carrots with tops, which come in orange and rainbow packs, Eagle said. The rainbows, introduced in the past year, have been a hit, he said.

“It’s a gourmet item that’s different from traditional machine-peeled carrots,” he said.

New this year for Southern Specialties are Guatemalan brussel sprouts, which come in an 8-ounce peeled microwaveable pack, Eagle said.

The company expects to add a 1-pound pack in the near future.

The product is on some retail shelves now, Eagle said, with plans to expand distribution significantly in 2012.

The genesis for the product came not from Southern Specialties, Eagle said, but from its customer base.

“We introduced it in response to customer requests,” he said.

“We did some trials, and felt it was a complementary item.”

In 2011, Princeton, Fla.-based New Limeco LLC ramped up production of its ginger, chayote squash and other Hispanic root vegetables from Central America, said Eddie Caram, the company’s general manager.

In the past, the company typically brought in one container of root vegetables a week. Now, Caram said, it’s more often two.

“In the past six months we’ve seen an increase, with more chains” establishing root vegetable programs with New Limeco, Caram said.

Plantation, Fla.-based Fresh Quest Inc. imports Central American vegetables as a complement to its melon program, the company’s mainstay, said Lou Kertesz, vice president of sales.

“It’s not something we mass produce,” he said.

“We try to find a gap for certain commodities, see if we can fill a void. It’s a source of diversity for us.”

This winter, Fresh Quest plans to bring in greenhouse-grown French beans from Guatemala, herbs from Guatemala and okra from Honduras, Kertesz said.

The company’s greenhouse-grown bean deal is a year-round program.