Lately, Denver Broncos fans’ heads have hung much like New Mexico Hatch chiles grow — toward the ground.
Perhaps the team’s outlook would be a little brighter had it chosen Pueblo chiles, which grow upwards, for its concession fare at Mile High Stadium.
In late May, the Broncos announced a deal with Albuquerque, N.M.-based 505 Southwestern to feature the company’s products made from the state’s Hatch green chiles.
“We recognize that 505 has become the ‘craft beer’ of the salsa category, and many of our fans here in Denver love the 505 brand. It’s local, it’s authentic, and it’s premium,” said Dan Hawley, of the Broncos organization, in a May statement announcing the partnership.
Since then, the franchise has experienced backlash from Pueblo chile farmers and other fans, including state Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, who expressed her disapproval of the decision via social media.
“To say I’m disappointed in this partnership between the Denver Broncos and New Mexico’s 505 company is an understatement,” she posted on her Facebook page.
Seth Medvin, strategic communications manager for the Broncos, told the Business Journal this week the “entire chile ordeal” is a misunderstanding.
He explained how 505’s ownership group, Flagship Food Group, is based out of Greenwood Village.
“We partner with tons of companies and Flagship Food Group is actually a local company that just sources some their products from outside of Colorado,” he said. “The entire chile ordeal has been a little silly to us but we understand and actually brought it to Flagship and asked if there was any way they could come up with a product with Pueblo Chile farmers.”
The team’s partnership with Flagship Food Group includes multiple products such as chips, queso, salsa and of course, green chiles.
“The reality is [Pueblo farmers] don’t have the supply to sustain all of 505’s chile needs,” Medvin said, adding further questions should be directed to Flagship.
Attempts by the Business Journal to reach Flagship went unanswered as of press time.
Rob Holland, Flagship’s chief executive and a Denver resident, said in the May statement that Denver was 505’s first “big market” outside of New Mexico.
“Today, some of our biggest fans are in Denver, and we are proud to consider this market home,” he said.
Holland explained how 505 is expanding its sports marketing campaign this year after being named the official partner of multiple stadiums and professional sports teams.
“Our green chile-based products go so well with so many items at stadiums, so we’re really working to expand this part of our business,” he said. “It’s really true — 505 does make anything taste better.”
Yet Pueblo chile farmers would disagree, lauding their own peppers as being better tasting than the Hatch chiles grown in New Mexico and used by 505.
“We like to think that our chiles taste better,” said Justin DiSanti, co-owner of DiSanti Farms, which has been in operation in Pueblo since the 1890s.
He said Pueblo’s microclimate is one of the reasons the area’s chiles taste better.
“Also, all of our water is fresh and comes from snowmelt in the mountains,” he said. “The elevation, we think, may play into it too.”
The fifth-generation farmer said he has always enjoyed the back-and-forth banter between the two states when it comes to who has the better peppers.
“I think it’s more of a playful beef than anything else,” he said. “Those Hatch guys are a lot bigger than we are and if they wanted to could probably squash us.”
Still, the longtime Broncos fan was disappointed when he heard the team was using New Mexico chiles at the stadium but added that he also understood the decision.
“[DiSanti Farms] and really everyone with the Pueblo Chile Growers Association aren’t set up to do a huge wholesale of frozen chiles yet,” he said. “That’s one area Hatch growers definitely have a one up on us.”
With a nickname of the “Chile Capital of the World,” it should be no surprise New Mexico leads the country in chile production.
Last year, New Mexico grew about 8,100 acres of Hatch chiles, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Agriculture Statistic Services.
The last full account of Pueblo chile production was released in 2012 in the USDA’s Census of Agriculture. The report, which is released every five years, had Colorado’s total chile production at 333 acres.
Data from the 2017 Census of Agriculture is scheduled to be released starting in February 2019.
Earlier this month, Donielle Gonzales, a Pueblo native, executive director for the Chile Grower’s Association and tourism director for the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce, told NPR that the Broncos’ decision to use Hatch chiles and not Pueblo chiles had a lot of residents, and especially farmers, upset.
“Even to the point that some people said, ‘We’re boycotting. We’re not going to sell to people who wear the Broncos [logo],’ ” she said.
She agreed with DiSanti that Pueblo farmers aren’t able to supply the volume of wholesale chiles New Mexico growers can.
“The Broncos are in the business of making money and have a responsibility to their shareholders,” she told NPR. “Our chile growers aren’t there to compete with that yet. Hopefully, one day.”
Pueblo Chile farmers do provide some smaller-scale wholesale options with existing partnerships with Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom, Chick-fil-A and locally based Little Caesars, DiSanti said.
“We are trying to become a bigger player in the frozen wholesale market,” he said. “But right now, like I said earlier, the Hatch growers have a bigger and better infrastructure for that than us and are able to take on bigger clients like the Broncos.
“It is still kind of a slap in the face that the Denver Broncos would be using New Mexico chiles, but until we have a better infrastructure, it would be hard for us to compete for that.”
DiSanti said Pueblo chiles are a “great product,” and that the farmers and association need to continue working to expand into other markets.
“It’s about getting into more restaurants and markets and then one day maybe into Mile High Stadium,” he said. “I think we are already working towards that.”