11,140 tons is the increase in New Mexico’s chile production between 2007 and 2008, according to New Mexico Chile Association administrator Jaye Hawkins.
77% of consumers say chile grown in New Mexico is better than that of other states, according to a 2009 survey by Research & Polling, Inc.
"This year was probably the best year in the last four or five in terms of overall [chile] sales, and green always outsells everything"—Gary Maricle, founder of the online retailer New Mexico Chili
Say the word “recession” to Jim Wrench, the owner of prepared foods retailer Santa Fe Olé, and he’ll laugh.
“I’m having an outstanding year,” Wrench says. “I have a product that people love, and I make lots of it. We can’t keep it in stock.”
The same is true for Gary Maricle, who founded the online retail shop New Mexico Chili as a sort of public service.
“You cannot find chile back East and, after a while, you run out of friends to send care packages to you,” Maricle says. His plan was to sell chile online; he built the first version of his website while recovering from open-heart surgery.
“I finished it on a Thursday and, by Sunday, we had our first order,” Maricle says. “It’s been going crazy ever since.” Crazy to the tune of a 400 percent increase in sales over the past year—numbers unheard of in this economic climate.
Stephanie Walker, an extension vegetable specialist with New Mexico State University, says sales and production in most of the state have stayed steady—and the recession has helped alleviate labor scarcity in the agricultural sector.
“Overall chile demand is actually increasing quite a bit,” Walker says.
There’s also increased competition from international growers of red chile—Peru, Mexico, China—with cheaper, more plentiful labor. Even green chile is sometimes outsourced to Mexico, then labeled as New Mexico chile.
According to the Research & Polling, Inc. survey, 64 percent of restaurant owners say serving real New Mexico chile gives them a marketing advantage.
For Wrench, his best-selling item is plain old New Mexico green chile sauce.
“People just prefer that flavor,” he says. “It’s more easily identifiable as being New Mexico.”
So when Wrench orders a burrito, what’ll it be?
“Green,” he says without hesitation. “Definitely green.”