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Pointed bell pepper market is proliferating and wants more:

"We want to compete with bell peppers"

Pointed bell pepper cultivation is expanding rapidly in the Netherlands. This pointed fruit vegetable is no longer a niche product. The marketing organization Harvest House has seen its growers' acreage increase substantially in recent years. And with it, the volumes to market. "We're full in the programs," begins Ivo Fiers on behalf of the cooperative. His responsibilities as sales manager include marketing pointed peppers.

Ivo Fiers

In early May, he notes that the season started well "despite considerable acreage growth." Harvest House's four pointed bell pepper growers, Rainbow Growers Group, Kwekerij Van Onselen, Frestia, and Villa Paprika, now total 42 hectares. "That expanded by 20% this season." Ivo estimates there are 130 to 140 hectares nationwide. "That's double compared to five years ago," he says.

Harvest House wants to grow annually in this product. "Even after a slightly lesser year, we won't simply abandon that course." They see opportunities to eventually replace some block pepper acreage for its pointed counterparts. That happened at one of this DUtch cooperative's growers, Powergrow - part of Rainbow Growers Group - this year. That grower converted all of its 12 hectares to pointed bell peppers in two steps over the past few years.

Mix strengthens the red variety
Ivo sees the strongest expansion in red pointed peppers. "That totals 90% but we've doubled in yellow and orange. There's increasing demand for the mixes we offer. In 2023, that grew so strongly that we've added considerably for that mix. We're, thus, ready for the coming years," he says, adding that more and more supermarkets are also offering these pointed bell pepper mixes. "And that demand is not yet saturated either." Ivo shares a notable observation regarding supermarkets. "Sometimes, if you place the pointed pepper mix alongside the regular red pointed bell peppers on the shelf, the red ones start selling better, too."

Harvest House achieved this growth in pointed bell peppers with its existing pointed pepper growers. "It's not a crop you can just add in. Last year, one of our growers tried, but he couldn't optimally integrate the pointed bell pepper alongside his existing crops. Hence, he didn't continue with that this year," Fiers says.

Almost half of the pointed peppers cultivated by Harvest House growers go to Dutch supermarket chains, but they also sell outside the Netherlands. "We need the rest of Northwest Europe to sell everything, especially now with the acreage expansion." There is competition from Southern Europe and North Africa, especially in the German market. They supply a lot of Capia pointed peppers. "Their winter season ends in late March/early April. However, not much later, the summer cultivation starts. Eastern Europe also has crops, in countries like Hungary and Poland. So, there's some overseas competition all year round, just not in the very early spring for a short period," says Ivo.

As far as Ivo is concerned, the imported product - the Capia pointed bell pepper - is a different product. "We think ours are the tastiest. With continuous variety development, we and Dutch growers must distinguish ourselves regarding flavor. So, that comes up tops." This year, too, growers affiliated with Harvest House, the largest fruit vegetable cooperative in the Netherlands, have new trials of new varieties. "Rijk Zwaan and Enza Zaden are constantly developing their varieties. That, in turn, results in improved versions of the pointed bell pepper as we know it today," Ivo explains.

"Several things have already been tried" to get Dutch pointed peppers to stand out on store shelves, says the sales manager. "You can do so with packaging, but the primary trend is to use less of that. So, we're constantly looking at differentiating ourselves from packaging. That's possible with, for example, shelf promotions in cooperation with retailers. Breeding companies also do that." Given the current and future market growth, the cooperative realizes good communication remains essential.

Alongside block bell peppers
It helps that Harvest House also markets considerable block pepper volumes. They regularly combine pointed bell pepper sales with those. "It's becoming increasingly common to sell four kilograms of pointed peppers along with five kg of block bell peppers," Ivo points out. Day trading, too, is becoming more common. "Then, we deliver the pointed peppers daily in various packages to exporters who sell to wholesale markets and product specialists."

What challenge does the pointed bell pepper market still have to tackle for further expansion? The cost price, answers Ivo. "They taste good. Many people I talk to prefer buying pointed peppers because they taste better. But if we want to truly compete with block peppers, the varieties must become more productive, and the cost price must fall," he believes. "At present, block bell peppers can cost thirty to forty euro cents less than the pointed ones, cost price-wise. That gap must shrink."

"A kilo of pointed peppers must cost the same to produce as a kg of block bell peppers. If that succeeds, we can start exchanging some of the block peppers acreage for pointed bell peppers. And retailers will have to make room on the shelf for pointed peppers at the expense of block bell peppers. Otherwise, it will always remain block pepper's pricier cousin, even though pointed bell peppers are no longer a specialty," Ivo concludes. In short, get innovating, which is what the market is doing, judging from recent developments.

Fotocredits: Harvest House

Ivo Fiers
[email protected]
Harvest House
[email protected]