Crown Jewels Produce LLC started shipping stoplight packs of bell peppers in early February, says managing partner Atomic Torosian.
Crown Jewels Produce LLC started shipping stoplight packs of bell peppers in early February, says managing partner Atomic Torosian.

Volumes of bell peppers out of west Mexico took their sweet time to build but came on with a vengeance in February.

“It’s traditionally the peak month, and this year is no exception,” Mike Aiton, director of marketing for Coachella, Calif.-based Prime Time International, said Feb. 5.

“Things have been limping along. There’s a lot of production now. The market is struggling to find the right place and there are a lot of bargains out there for the customers.”

Tropical storm and hurricane weather last fall in Culiacan and similar damage in Los Mochis got bells off to a slow start for Fresno, Calif.-based Crown Jewels Produce LLC, which began shipping Mexican crop in December.

“They had to replant,” said Atomic Torosian, managing partner. “More than the rain, it was the heavy winds that destroyed a lot of hothouses in that region. It affected a lot of growers.”

“We had two hurricane-type events that stunted the growth and knocked all the flowers on the ground,” Aiton said.

“It had to start all over again. Even the protected stuff got wet and delayed.”

“There was a little bit of a false sense of security because there were problems concurrently in Florida,” he said.

“So demand was very good, the markets remained high and we came into a nice flush of product about the same time Florida got back on their feet. It was a double whammy to the markets.”

Large green bell peppers in 1 1/9-bushel cartons crossing at Nogales, Ariz., shipped for about $14.95 on Feb. 10, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, still above the year-ago price of $7-8.

Crown Jewels adds pack

Crown Jewels took advantage of the arrival of peak Mexican bell pepper production to introduce a stoplight three-pack with red, green and yellow colors.

Shipments began the first week of February.

“Those are getting to be more popular,” Torosian said.

“It’s something we were gearing up for. We were going to do some last year. Then we heard from some of our customers and that got us moving. We were already packing all the colors anyway.”

Crown Jewels offers orange bells as well.

“The number of SKUs in the pepper category continues to expand and we want to accommodate that by giving people what they want,” Prime Time’s Aiton said.

“The major thing I see happening this year is much more prevalence of packing in (reusable plastic containers) as well as a lot more bagged or prepackaged product. Our customers are asking for it.”

Prime Time International, too, offers multiple pepper colors.

Organic lull may pass

Ricardo Crisantes, general manager for Nogales, Ariz.-based organic grower-shipper Wholesum Family Farms, expected some improvement from a stagnant winter pepper market.

“Organic peppers have been low in pricing,” he said Feb. 12. “At times in January organic peppers were at the same level as conventional, which doesn’t happen very frequently. That was a little surprising, but we’re looking forward to a strong February or March.”