GUIYANG -- Mountains of chili peppers of all varieties lie in heaps, as workers weigh and pack dried chilies amid the constant hum of forklifts moving to and fro loading the packed chilies onto trucks.
The busy scene is a common sight at a marketplace, known as "China Chili City," in Xiazi Township located in the city of Zunyi, Southwest China's Guizhou province.
Here, hundreds of thousands of tonnes of chilies are readied each year for distribution across China and for export to countries like Russia, the United States, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Italy.
Zunyi, nestled in the Yungui Plateau, benefits from a unique climate that makes it one of the nation's primary chili-producing areas. With a stable year-round chili cultivation area of over 133,000 hectares, it ranks first among all prefecture-level cities in the country.
The Chili City, which evolved from the local markets of Xiazi Township in the 1970s, officially commenced operations in August 2017. Covering an area of more than 40 hectares, the market includes various functional areas such as a trading center, processing center, warehousing center, and cold chain center.
In 2022, the total volume of transactions in the market reached 470,000 tonnes with a trading volume of 12.2 billion yuan (about $1.7 billion), making it the largest dry chili trading market in the country.
Shi Yongsong is a seasoned broker who has been in the chili business since he was 17. He now heads Guizhou Mantianhong Agricultural Development Co Ltd, a company he established within the market.
"The chilies in Zunyi have very good quality," Shi said, adding that, every year, his company trades 7,000 to 8,000 tonnes of dried chili, contributing to an annual output value of around 100 million yuan.
In recent years, as the Chili City's brand strengthens, chilies produced in many parts of the country have specifically been transported to Zunyi for transit in order to broaden the sales channels, and many companies have also moved their production lines to Zunyi.
However, the marketplace serves not just as a hub for raw chili trade, but also as a magnet for various sectors within the chili industry.
Morals Village, a Chongqing-based major catering company, has set up its first deep processing base there, transforming chilies into a variety of condiments that find their way to dinner tables across the country.
"The reason we chose this location is precisely because of the excellent quality of Zunyi chilies," said Li Yangmei, general manager of Zunyi Morals Village Food Industry Co Ltd.
Another local firm, Guizhou Guisanhong Food Co Ltd, integrates chili cultivation, product research and development, production processing, and sales. The company has built an extensive chili production network, helping nearly 200,000 chili farmers to boost their income through chili planting.
"We aim to enhance the level of industry organization, and promote high-quality development of the chili industry," said Chun Shijun, director of the integrated service department of the Chili City. "Our goal is to further establish our brand, increase pricing power and expand our global footprint."