Hot peppers are on trend, and consumer demand has been showing an increase in recent years. "Restaurants and fast-food chains increasingly add hot peppers to meals that didn't include them before," says Salvador Hurtado, Hot Pepper, Melon & Latin America Senior Product Manager with Sakata Seed. In addition, the home garden market is playing a key role in rising demand. "As the home garden interest grows, so does the need for some spice in the garden," added Hurtado. Most people grow tomatoes and herbs, which are well complemented by hot peppers to make homemade salsas and stuffed Jalapeños for barbecues. "It is very exciting to see the popularity of hot peppers picking up."
New Pathfinder variety
Sakata Seed has been breeding hot pepper varieties since 1992 and has more than 20 varieties in its portfolio, from Jalapenos to Habaneros and everything in between. The company was one of the first to release a hybrid poblano pepper called Caballero. In addition, it considers itself a leader in resistances with the El Rey Jalapeño. "Pathfinder, a new Serrano variety that was recently introduced, is taking the market by storm," Hurtado said. "The intense dark color, long shelf-life, and Bacteria/ Phytophthora resistance is turning on the heat for our growers." Consumers, on the other hand, receive extraordinary shelf-life with Pathfinder. "Where our competitors' varieties start to turn color shortly after harvest, our Serrano maintains its dark green color."
Breeding dual-purpose varieties
Sakata's hot pepper breeding program focuses on developing dual-purpose varieties: hot peppers for both the fresh and dehydrating markets. "Although our product line leads the dehydrating market, focusing on dual purpose varieties can be beneficial for some varieties that we are utilizing for the fresh market," Hurtado mentioned. "Many of the traits that make a dehydrating market hot pepper extraordinary are great for the fresh market as well. These include extended shelf life, thick walls, heat units, as well as resistances." From a grower's perspective, many varieties that target the dehydration market must have a high yield and an early cycle in order to maximize production. "Our pepper breeder is making huge strides towards breeding peppers that have all these traits."
Trial field of Pathfinder and Lone Ranger.
Mexico is the main market
Mexico is Sakata's main market for hot peppers, followed by the US East Coast and, most recently, the company's home garden division. The largest market, the dehydrating segment, is mostly focused on the Poblano, Guajillo, and other specialty peppers, and trials mainly take place in Mexico. However, trials for the fresh segment also take place all over Mexico. In addition, the company's Woodland Innovation Center in California, as well as the US East Coast, are important research hubs.
In Mexico, the dehydrated market is still transitioning from Open Pollinated (OP) varieties to Hybrids. "OP varieties often lack the disease resistance package and yield that an average hybrid will provide," said Hurtado." Sakata's goal is to provide growers with hybrid varieties that provide fruit uniformity, higher yields, excellent export quality, and better resistance to ever-evolving growing conditions. Based on the trends and increasing consumer demand, Hurtado encourages Sakata's hot pepper growers to trial and include diverse segments of hot peppers in their offering.