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Historically high bell pepper market softening somewhat

There are a number of reasons why the supply has been less on bell peppers this season. Starting with the Florida growing region where its growth cycle has been slowed due to being fairly consistently overcast cloudy type weather and more drizzly, rainy weather than is normal at this time of year because of the El Nino weather phenomenon. "This should be our dry season in Florida with warm temperatures and sun. Instead, we have experienced cool temperatures, especially at night," says Neil Mazal of East Coast Farms & Vegetables. He notes that recently, night temperatures have hit 48 degrees Fahrenheit.

Looking to the West, storms there have also made their way through the Mexican growing area. "That has slowed down or wiped out bell pepper production in some of the areas, and that's causing people to replant and causing gaps in supply," says Mazal.

Collectively, the tighter supply from both regions is behind the 20-year historically high market on peppers. Red, yellow, and orange peppers are seeing pricing that's trading at historical highs of 11 lb. bin of red pepper from $18.95 FOB (smaller to medium sizes) to as high as $26.95 FOB for an extra large 11 lb. bin of pepper.

Working its way into that pricing are also continued higher input costs such as elevated freight rates, which have recently been driven by seasonal demand--think Lent, which sees good demand for vegetables but also plants and flowers commanding high freight rates around Valentine's Day and which are shipping to the southeast and Midwest, along with other increased input costs such as insurance. "All of that drove delivered costs up," says Mazal.

As for demand for what is available, recent chillier weather across the Midwest and the Northeast has also affected demand given shoppers tend to shop less in colder weather and also eat out less. "This is all playing into the tapestry of what's driving markets. However, mostly, it's driven by the cost of growing factors, weather conditions, and the impact of that on both main growing areas," he says.

Bell pepper pricing softening?
Looking ahead, though, Mazal notes that Mexico seems to have recovered somewhat, and pricing is coming down on Mexican peppers crossing into Nogales, Arizona and McAllen, Texas. "Not so much in Florida because it continues to be historically low in production," he says. While weather is part of that, as are those high input costs, there are several other factors contributing to the low production overall in the state--everything from farmland being purchased and converted over to land developers, less plantings on existing farms, and more.

Relief is coming on bell pepper supply, with Western quotes more recently coming in softer, though Florida has not seen the same trend. "Our markets have not reflected as much of an impact on price pressure as has the Mexican product," says Mazal, adding Florida might not recover until the Georgia market begins, which will be around mid-April.

However, California's production has also been held up by its recent rains, which have even impacted some of the desert-growing areas in Coachella. Also, reports indicate that California growers are planting 20-30 percent less pepper product than last year. "That's going to continue to drive markets higher, and that's driven again by production costs," says Mazal. "They can't afford to plant quite as much as they had in the past."

For more information:
Neil Mazal
East Coast Farms & Vegetables
Tel.: +1 (561) 561 286.0286