Bell peppers remain the king of the category for the California desert winter season, but a close relative — miniature sweet peppers — is making inroads.

The harvest of red and yellow bell peppers will continue well into December at the Coachella Valley acreage of Sun World International LLC, Bakersfield, said Gene Coughlin, category director for peppers and sweet mini peppers.

Near Thermal, Fresno-based Baloian Farms began picking green peppers Oct. 31, said Jeremy Lane, sales manager.

Harvesting of red bell peppers is scheduled to begin Nov. 21, he said.

“Both colors will ship through the end of the year or until the first frost,” Lane said.

At Coachella-based Prime Time International LLC, the fall green bell pepper harvest shares top billing with green beans.

“We’ll pick the green beans until Thanksgiving and will be finished with the bell peppers some time in December,” said Mike Aiton, director of marketing.

That doesn’t mean an end to Prime Time’s bell pepper production. The company’s greenhouse and packinghouse in nearby Mecca will produce and pack multi-colored bell peppers into April, Aiton said.

The winter greenhouse production has been particularly attractive to foodservice.

“One of the major selling points we have for foodservice is year-round availability,” Aiton said.

Prime Time packs the bells in 2-, 3-, 4-, 6- and 8-pound bags.

“We can mix and match colors and counts depending on what a customer wants,” Aiton said.

New this season for Prime Time are miniature sweet peppers, Aiton said.

“We’re packing them in 1- and 2-pound cello bags, and we’ll have them year-round,” he said.

The mini-sweets, which are small, elongated peppers, also are relatively new at Sun World.

“We did a real small experimental planting in 2010,” Coughlin said. “We’ve bumped up the acreage for this year.”

Sun World also has developed a retail display bin for the miniature sweet peppers.

“It’s been received very well,” Coughlin said. “It gives retailers an opportunity to merchandise differently, perhaps run a more aggressive promotion and still have shelving.”

With help from growing partners in Mexico, Sun World plans to have the mini-sweets available year-round, he said.

Miniature sweet peppers also are newcomers to the Baloian Farms inventory.

“We’re getting lots of interest from our foodservice customers,” Lane said.

The Baloian Farms miniature sweet peppers are packed in 2-pound bags and 1-pint clamshells, he said.