U.S. company Frieda's Specialty Produce is gearing up to kick off the brief but hotly anticipated Hatch chile season, which this year will be accompanied by new packaging to differentiate the product and help educate consumers.
The chiles are exclusively grown in the Mesilla Valley near the town of Hatch, New Mexico, and are generally available fresh for six to eight weeks of the year with peak volumes in August.
According to Frieda's, they are highly sought after by chile pepper enthusiasts for their "zesty, bold flavor", especially when roasted over an open flame. Many retailers also host in-store chile-roasting events to build excitement.
Speaking to Fresh Fruit Portal, Frieda's representative Alex Jackson Berkley explained volumes had grown strongly since the company started selling them in the 1990s, while food media had driven demand for the product which was previously not so well-known outside New Mexico.
"As the foodie culture has grown and food media has shared what’s available to the world, the volume’s become much bigger," she said.
"It’s cool to love food and it’s cool to try new food, and when something unique comes to the market it gains the most attention. So with something like Hatch that’s also limited, people go crazy during August and the beginning of September.
"The food media really rallies behind it and that’s driven growth with other departments of the food industry," she said, highlighting you could buy it fresh, roasted or even in tortilla chips, as a salsa, hot sauce or even ice cream.
She also explained the soil and the weather in Hatch produced a flavor unlike its most similar cousin, the Anaheim chile.
"Just like California strawberries taste different to Florida strawberries, the Hatch chile peppers have that reputation because of the growing region," she said.
"There’s a group of people we call 'chile heads' which are those who love different varieties of chile from all over the world and different flavor profiles and heat levels.
"Once they found out about Hatch, people would want to see it for themselves so people would show up at Hatch, New Mexico, every year for the chile festival, buy probably hundreds of pounds of chiles and drive them back up home."
Frieda's is launching a new 8/2-lb. retail pouch for the Hatch chiles this year, which Berkley explained was partly to help differentiate the product.
"The main reason is because is because it looks so similar to an Anaheim chile and traditionally chile peppers aren’t labeled with a PLU like bell peppers are," she explained.
"When you ring them up at the cash register, almost 100% of the time the cashier will ring it up as an Anaheim chile so the store is not able to really gauge how successful their sales were or how well the item's moving, but the Anaheim chile sales look great."
Berkley also drew attention to the importance of educating consumers about the product.
"With Freida’s brand refresh we’ve done over the last couple of years and as we’re leaning more about consumers and the future consumer, we known they want to learn more about their food.
"So besides just building a big display with Hatch Chile and just having a sign there, they want to take it home and know what to do with it and lean about it. The package gives them that educational piece which Frieda’s has been known for 50 years."
In addition, she explained the pouch could help drive sales as consumers would have to buy larger quantities than just one or two single chiles.
Frieda's distributes the Hatch chiles throughout the U.S., and Berkley advised retailers to carry out promotions in the first and second week of August.
Like much of Arizona and California, New Mexico has been experiencing a heat wave recently. However, while Berkley said it seemed the early crop had been slighty affected, she still expected a good season that would be on-time.