Mexican bell pepper production is reaching its height in February and early March, right on schedule. And this year should bring more volume — and competition — on sales of sweet miniature peppers.

“February is generally our peak month for colored peppers, both field-grown and protected structure, and it will be our biggest month again this year as well,” Mike Aiton, director of Marketing at Prime Time International, said Jan. 28. “Nothing happened that will derail a normal production curve.”

Freezes and cold temperatures that hit Mexico in the second week of January resulted in minor losses in northern regions.

Elsewhere there was just a pause in crop growth.

Some growers reported that colored peppers, for example, were slow to turn from green to red.

“It was a disruption in normal harvesting programs, but the damage was minimal as far as Prime Time was concerned,” Aiton said. “Product stopped ripening and coloring for us. It was a little bit of a lull in productivity but very little long-term damage.”

“We are anticipating that volumes will increase significantly throughout February and March,” said Aaron Quon, greenhouse category director for Vancouver-based The Oppenheimer Group. “Our peppers were not affected by the weather, especially in Etzatlan, where temperatures did not drop as much.”

Prime Time International has more than doubled acreage on mini peppers since last year, Aiton said.

“Mini peppers are in a lot more hands now,” Aiton said. “It’s a lot more competitive and prices are quite a bit less than they were a year ago. Others have mimicked what we’ve done and expanded acreage. It’s a highly promotable item all the way through March.”

After mid-March, a decline in production and a modest seasonal gap is expected to appear. California production doesn’t start until late April.

Calavo Growers Inc., whose Nogales, Ariz., operations focus on tomatoes, has added a trial program of red bell peppers for foodservice and retail.

Supplies are limited, said J.J. Badillo, director of diversified products.

Prices on 1-1/9 bushel cartons of extra large red bell peppers from Mexico were mostly $24-$25, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Year-ago prices ranged from about $23.50-$24.50.