Alternative varieties at a price within range of conventional produce are fueling growth at Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Southern Specialties.

The company’s Guatemalan-grown French beans are a case in point.

“We’ve seen significant growth in all sizes — 8-ounce microwaveable and 1- and 2-pound French beans in Southern Selects, Today’s Gourmet and private labels for major retailers,” said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development for Southern Specialties.

“They’re more expensive than traditional green beans, but we’re bullish on them and see continued growth,” said Eagle, who credited the variety’s tenderness, appearance and nonfibrous texture.

Snow peas, sugar snap peas and other commodities grown in Central America are selling well too.

“Our Guatemalan partners are providing a high-quality, assured product at an attractive price, and the menu includes items that are not economically feasible to be grown in the U.S.,” Eagle said.

“We have softer prices on some of our commodities than we had a year or two ago and that may reflect the economy,” he said. “But we continue to move more packages than we ever have. Had markets been as strong from a dollar-value standpoint as they were two years ago, we’d have had more significant revenue growth than we did. But sales continue to move north. Our growth on package count and sales volume has been double-digit in the last year.”

He declined to say which two digits were involved.

Even business with restaurants and institutions has seen some benefit.

“Our foodservice sales are up over a year ago,” Eagle said. “We’re seeing a strengthening but it’s hard to define because we’ve had strong demand and some limited supplies during periods where we’d normally be shipping.”

The company anticipates adequate supplies of all commodities from December on. Replanting efforts that followed storms in Guatemala proved successful, Eagle said.

Demand hasn’t ebbed.

“We’re getting a lot of requests for product, and it’s a combination of factors,” he said. “There are people looking for new ways to provide value to their customers. Some have had successes with products we offer. And some are just reacting to new packaging we’ve put out that catches their attention.”

The 8-ounce microwaveables have been particularly popular, Eagle said.