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Bell and Chili Peppers Profile

By Dan Burden, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University, djburden@iastate.edu.

Revised September 2014 by Linda Naeve, AgMRC, Iowa State University.


In the last few years, U.S. consumption of all peppers has increased, rising from an average of 15.3 pounds per person in 2005 to 19.1 pounds per person in 2012. During that same time, consumption of bell peppers grew from 9.2 pounds to 11.7 pounds, while chili pepper consumption grew from 6.1 pounds to 7.4 pounds. (ERS 2013)

In 2012, 18.6 million cwt of bell peppers were grown on approximately 55,500 acres with a crop valued at $627.5 million.
While peppers are grown on a large number of farms across the U.S., production volumes are more concentrated. California produced 51 percent of U.S. field-grown bell pepper volume (9.9 million cwt), followed by Florida (4.5 million cwt) with 26 percent, Georgia and New Jersey with 6 percent each, North Carolina with 5 percent, Ohio with 4 percent, and Michigan with 2 percent. (NASS 2013)

Chili peppers were grown on approximately 20, 800 acres and produced 4.8 million cwt, valued at $175.1 million in 2012. California continued to be the leading producer of chili peppers in 2011; the state produced 2.5 million cwt of chili peppers worth $85.9 million. New Mexico's chili crop climbed to 2.0 million cwt worth $46.7 million.  (NASS 2012)

From a global perspective, the U.S. ranked 5th in production of green peppers (both chile and bell/nonpungent) in 2012 with approximately 3 percent of reported world production. The largest producers over that period were China with 51 percent of global production, Mexico (7 percent), Turkey

India was the largest producer and exporter of dried chili peppers in 2012, followed by China (FAOStat).


The majority of bell peppers produced in the United States are still grown in the field using drip irrigation and mulch. Domestic field production has been increasing since 1960 with the steepest upward trend during the 1980s. In 2012, over 1,860 million pounds of field-grown bell peppers were harvested from 55,500 acres in the U.S. Produced and marketed year round, bell peppers are usually sold as fresh produce. California’s shipping season runs from April to December, with peak volume hitting the market May through July. Florida’s shipments run from October through the following July, with peak volume occurring during March and April. In addition to field-grown peppers, smaller volumes of greenhouse-grown bell peppers are also available throughout the year.

Peppers are crops that lend themselves to home-garden production and small and large-scale production. The plants also do very well in container gardens and other non-traditional cropping systems. In larger production systems, many field operations, such as land preparation, planting and harvesting, can be custom hired, and any equipment owned by the grower can be used for other ornamental plant or vegetable production operations.

Produced and marketed year round, bell peppers are usually sold as fresh produce. California’s shipping season runs from April to December, with peak volume hitting the market May through July. Florida’s shipments run from October through the following July, with peak volume occurring during March and April. In addition to field-grown peppers, smaller volumes of domestically-produced, greenhouse-grown bell peppers are also available throughout the year.

A typical field of fresh-market peppers is harvested by hand every week or so over the course of about four to six weeks. Most of the crop is sold as mature green peppers, but growers receive a premium for a limited amount of other colors. Colored bell peppers follow the mature green stage and color up as they ripen on the vine. The premium reflects the fact that bright-colored bell peppers (red, yellow, orange, purple, brown and black) are more costly to produce (field losses are higher and yields are lower) than those harvested at the green stage. Shippers may apply a food-grade wax to the majority of commercially produced peppers to reduce moisture loss and scuffing during marketing. This can also extend storage life, which under ideal conditions can range up to 3 weeks.

Protected-culture technologies for pepper production come in many forms, such as greenhouses and high tunnels, and allow the grower some degree of control over various factors including weather events, pests, water and land use, pesticides, and fertilizer inputs. According to AC Nielsen data from 2009, peppers grown in greenhouses accounted for over one-fourth of total pepper sales between late 2008 and September 2009, with volume of sales increasing rapidly from year to year. Canadian greenhouse pepper production dwarfs that of field production. In 2010 twice as many peppers were produced using protected-culture technologies compared with field production. The majority of both field and greenhouse peppers are exported to the United States, but again greenhouse peppers dominate with two-thirds of the shipments to the U.S. grown in protected-culture technology systems.

CharacteristicsBell and chili peppers are unrelated to the spice pepper plant that produces the ground black pepper commonly found on American tables. The most popular mild peppers are the bell and banana varieties. Types of hot peppers include the jalapenos and habaneros, to name a few of the many varieties.

Bell peppers contain no capsaicin—the compound that gives the kick to chili peppers. They are high in vitamin C (one medium green bell pepper contains 177 percent of the RDA for vitamin C), and as they mature and turn color, the vitamin A content rises by a factor of nine while the vitamin C content doubles. The brighter colored peppers tend to be sweeter than green peppers because the sugar content increases as the pepper matures. Peppers are also excellent sources of dietary fiber and provide small amounts of several other vitamins and minerals.

Pepper pungency is rated in terms of "Scoville heat units." As mentioned above, bell peppers have no capsaicin and are rated at zero on the Scoville heat unit scale of pungency. The popular Jalapeno pepper ranges from 2,000 to 25,000 units, and the Habenero chili pepper is rated as high as one million Scoville units. The Chile Pepper Institute has identified the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion as the new hottest pepper in the world; the pepper can register as high as 2 million Scoville units. The previous record holder was the Bhut Jolokia pepper. 


Peppers usually are harvested in the immature "green" stage for use in relishes, salads, stuffings and for flavor in many cooked dishes. Many of the very hot chili peppers are picked green or allowed to further mature. They are then bottled in condiment products, are dried, or dried and ground for use as spices or accent food ingredients (paprika, hot pepper oil).

Chili peppers used in Oriental, Cajun and Southwestern cuisine are sold as dried or fresh peppers or processed into pepper mash for sale to the condiment industry. Many of the chili pepper and ornamental varieties are sold in ristras (dried strings) or in bottles for decorative purposes. Many of the dwarf varieties are tender ornamental plants with colorful (and often edible) fruit and attractive foliage. Chili peppers are also used to produce food coloring agents. Dyes made from red chile peppers are natural and safe food coloring agents used in many products, including salad dressings, meat products, cosmetics and clothing. The incredible range of varieties, heat levels, flavor attributes and the fantastic range of fruit shape and color make it easier for growers to address many food and non-food niche markets.

Capsaicin, the active heat ingredient from peppers, is a pharmacological product used as a topical anti-arthritic and anti-inflammatory agent. Two related non-food non-pharmacological applications for capsaicin include the temporarily debilitating "pepper spray" weapons for personal protection and use of the compound as a "natural" "organic" pesticide. Almost all capsaicin for these "industrial" applications comes from Asian and South African producers and large international chemical distributors. This is a high-value material, for example, 60 percent capsicum sells for about $85 per gram and further purified 97 percent capsicum sells for $325 per gram. A derivative, dihydrocapsaicin, represents about 10 percent of the compound present in commercial 60 percent capsicum preparations and regularly sells for around $200 per gram. It is interesting to note that "pure super concentrated" capsicum medicinal formulations (1 million Scoville) heat units available over the Internet sell for only about $10 per ounce (obviously these are quite far from being "pure" formulations).

With respect to the pharmacological properties of capsaicin, it is generally recognized as a powerful local stimulant with no narcotic effect.. Capsaicin also is used as a tonic for warding off disease (perhaps due instead to the high vitamin C content of the pepper). Used externally, it is used to stimulate circulation and often is applied by physicians and physical trainers as a liniment.


Competitive intensity within the pepper production industry is extremely varied. A few large growers may influence a considerable share of domestic distribution to major national or regional grocery chains and processors. However, these same growers may have little impact on farmers' market and similar local sales outlets. Various markets exist for growers with small-acreage farms or several acres. Some smaller growers may handle their own processing and perhaps marketing of specialty condiments like salsas and hot sauces. Still others may concentrate only on the production of ornamental plants or seedlings for sale to enthusiasts and gardeners. This is a highly diversified industry with considerable growth potential in the niche market areas. As Asian and Latino cultures continue to influence American European cuisine, this growth should continue.

Several basic marketing alternatives are available to pepper growers. Direct sales to consumers at farmers’ markets, roadside produce stands, or combined with other crops in weekly CSA deliveries.


There are several ways in which peppers can be sold through wholesale markets. Local grocery or retail stores are a possible wholesale market, but this involves contacting produce or inventory managers and reliably providing high-quality peppers or pepper-derived product on a regular or pre-arranged basis. Roadside stands provide opportunities to receive higher than wholesale prices but may demand additional expenses for advertising or maintaining and staffing the facility.

With respect to wholesale marketing, producers often contract with shippers to market and ship their peppers for a predetermined price. If a grower does not use a contractor and ships the peppers directly to the wholesaler, the product is subject to the greatest price fluctuation. Marketing cooperatives generally use a pooled daily cost and price, which spreads price fluctuations over all participating producers.


In the past two decades, U.S. fresh-market pepper exports and imports have both been trending upward. However, U.S. exports of bell peppers pale in comparison to imports. Export volumes have averaged less than 15 percent of import volumes annually since 1990. Export value of all peppers was $80.8 million in 2012.. By far the largest export market for U.S. fresh bell peppers is Canada, accounting for approximately 95 percent of the total with a value of 76.7 million in 2012, followed by Mexico, which purchased $2.4 million of U.S. peppers, an increase from the previous year. (USDA ERS, 2013)


The imported valued of all peppers in the United States was valued was $782.4 million in 2012. In terms of country of origin, Mexico shipped more than $501.7million of peppers to the United States in 2012 and Canada provided peppers valued at more than $204.5 million. (FAS 2012)

In 2012, Mexico supplied over 75 percent of fresh pepper imports to the U.S. (valued at $782.4 million). Canada was the next largest supplier, accounting for 17.5 percent (valued at $205.8 million), followed by the Netherlands with 3 percent and the Dominican Republic with 1.5 percent.

Chili Pepper Institute, New Mexico State University - An international nonprofit organization devoted to education, research, publication and archiving information related to Capsicums or chile peppers.

Global Ag Trade System, Foreign Agricultural Service, USDA.

Vegetable Reports, National Ag Statistical Service (NASS), USDA - This report provides data on bell peppers, including area harvested, prospective area, yield and production for major states.

Vegetables and Pulses Yearbook, Economic Research Service, USDA, 2012.

Vegetables Annual Summary, NASS, USDA, 2012.

Profile created March 2003 and revised September 2014.


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