Growing specialty onion category requires education - The Packer

Growing specialty onion category requires education

10/24/2012 05:06:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

LASALLE, Colo. — When Strohauer Farms first started growing and shipping specialty potatoes several years ago, it had to overcome consumers’ and retailers’ unfamiliarity with the new items.

The LaSalle, Colo.-based grower-shipper did so by including recipes on the plastic wrap on the netted bag, in brochures and on its website, www.strohauerfarms.com, said Tanya Fell, director of marketing and sales.

“I hired a recipe developer for the potato recipes,” she said. “With the specialty fingerlings, we had to really educate consumers as well.”

Strohauer Farms has since added organic and conventional specialty onions under the Rocky Mountain Pure label, and plans to follow a similar approach.

Fell said she’s been working with the same developer to craft three savory and three grilling recipes that use specialty onions.

The recipes have to be easy to prepare with ingredients found in most consumers’ pantries, she said.

In the coming weeks, Strohauer Farms plans to launch new 8-ounce mesh bags for the onions with a plastic wrap that features nutritional information and the new recipes.

peeled pearl onionsCourtesy Christopher RanchChristopher Ranch offers peeled, ready-to-use specialty onions, such as white pearl, in resealable 6-ounce bags. “What consumer surveys say, in particular, consumers want (information) on their packaging,” she said. “That’s what we had to do with the fingerlings.”

Specialty onions — including boilers, shallots, cippolinis, and white, gold and red pearls — typically are included as part of a bigger overall onion display, said Robert Schueller, public relations director for Melissa’s/World Variety Produce, Los Angeles.

Some retailers, for example, may include specialty onions on an end cap of an onion display.

“Even though the majority of shoppers will buy the traditional (onions), you have these foodies who are looking for these refined items,” he said.

Expanding onion displays to include the specialties items can benefit retailers, Fell said.

“It’s a great way to add additional dollars to their sales,” she said.

Because many of these items may be unfamiliar to consumers, retailers should follow a similar course by offering recipes or serving suggestions, said Patsy Ross, vice president of marketing for Gilroy, Calif.-based Christopher Ranch LLC.

The sweet, flying-saucer-shaped cippolini onion, for example, is part of many traditional Italian dishes. As consumers are exposed to this type of cuisine — either in restaurants or on TV cooking shows — they may want to try to replicate it at home, Ross said.

Christopher Ranch added specialty onions to its garlic line in the late 1970s and early 1980s as a way to expand its specialty offerings, she said

The company started with shallots and eventually expanded into pearl, boiler and cippolini onions.

The specialty items have been available for years in mesh bags. A couple of years ago, Christopher Ranch added peeled, ready-to-use white pearl onions, cippolinis and shallots in 6-ounce resealable bags in the refrigerator case, she said.

The special pouch keeps the product fresh for up to seven weeks in the refrigerator.

Although shallots are part of the onion family, they have a more refined flavor, Schueller said.

“It’s a little different than your typical onion,” he said. “It’s always been a big holiday item.”

Melissa’s offers shallots in 3-ounce mesh bags and a 1-pound Vexar package.

Cooler fall temperatures also prompt many consumers to turn to hardier dishes, such as stews and soups where ping-pong-sized boiler onions are a popular ingredient, he said.

In addition, many specialty onions are used in traditional holiday dishes, such as peas and pearl onions.

“One of the things about the (holiday) recipes is consumers want to follow them because they want the exact taste,” Schueller said. “Take shallots, for example. It’s hard to substitute a yellow onion when it calls for shallots.”



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