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Prime Time International completing smooth management transition

Over the last several years, two of Prime Time International’s founding partners have been turning the reins over to new managing partners Mike Way and Jeff Taylor.

“It has been a very gradual transition as Jeff and Mike take on more responsibilities and assume day to day responsibilities, and Carl Sam Maggio and Mark Nickerson take a step back a bit,” said Mike Aiton, longtime director of marketing for the Coachella, CA-based firm.

He noted that Maggio and Nickerson are still involved and are owners of the privately held firm along with Way and Taylor, but their office visits have decreased. He said the two newer partners both came up through the sales department so over the last two to three years they have increased their knowledge and responsibilities in the other facets of the business, including growing, packing and administration.

“Transition” was also the word Aiton used to discuss the current crop cycle at Prime Time when he spoke to The Produce News April 13. “We are in transition from mainland Mexico to Baja and then ultimately to the Coachella Valley for our pepper program.”

Aiton revealed that Baja provides product during the gap period between Central Mexico and Coachella, which had already begun harvesting green Bell peppers, with the colored peppers still a couple of weeks away from full maturity. The red pepper crop is looking for a Coachella Valley start date around May 10.

During the Coachella Valley field-growing season, Prime Time adds several crops to its signature pepper program. Also in the mix are watermelons, sweet corn and green beans. “We really gear our production of those crops for Memorial Day,” Aiton said. “We go fast and furious for about six weeks from May 1 to June 15.”

Depending upon how quickly the summer heat hits that desert area, peppers can last through June. Last year, though, the Coachella Valley had a very hot summer with temperatures reaching 115 degrees in mid-June, effectively ending the season a bit prematurely. “It was miserable weather for people and plants,” said Aiton. “It’s hard for any of the plants to even survive in those temperatures, let alone produce a crop.”

As the Prime Time executive surveyed the current market situation for peppers he was hopeful that it would turn around soon. Since Thanksgiving, the vegetable market in general, and the colored peppers specifically, has been in a supply exceeds demand situation with many weeks of sales below cost. “We are optimistic that the situation is starting to flip,” he said during this mid-April conversation. Florida and Georgia appear to be having some problems as we are seeing a lot of our green peppers go East, which is highly unusual at this time of year. There are clearly some problems in the fields in the Southeast.”

He was hopeful that good spring weather across the country would increase demand and result in a bump in the f.o.b. price. Aiton said mini-peppers continue to see a rise in demand with Prime Time increasing its acreage about another 10 percent this year. The product appears to be a hit with consumers. “It is still a good growth item,” he said. “It’s no longer on a sky rocket pace but sales continue to increase.”

Around July 1, Prime Time will transition production areas once again to the southern San Joaquin Valley for the bulk of the summer production of its many different pepper varieties. Green, red, yellow and orange continue to be the peppers with the most traction. “We continually experiment with other colors and varieties and always have an experimental block growing somewhere,” Aiton said. “But there is nothing new to report at this point.”