Onions are not just a sweet business, even though conversations about the product often turn toward one sweet variety or another.
The beauty of marketing onions is in the choices available to the customer, said Wayne Mininger, executive vice president of the Greeley, Colo.-based National Onion Association.
“It’s great for the marketplace in general,” he said.
It’s good to offer reds, whites and yellows, but the onion category’s nuances transcend its multiple colors and have boosted consumption in the U.S. as much as 60% in the last 25 years, Mininger said.
“The product, the different kind, size, shapes and varieties of ways onions are produced and marketed and presented to the public in retail and foodservice exceeds all the variety of methods anyplace I’ve been in the world, and not just by a little bit,” he said.
U.S. consumers, as a result, come closer with onions to having a product “their way” than with any other commodity, Mininger said.
“That isn’t to say they can’t get it elsewhere, but not the plethora of ways they have here,” he said.
Shippers note certain customers want certain varieties.
“It just depends on the area you’re in,” said Scott Adams, owner of Hatch, N.M.-based Adams Produce.
Red onions are popular in foodservice, said Steve Smith, president and owner of Las Cruces, N.M.-based National Onion Inc.
“There are certain pockets in the country where reds and whites are what they like,” he said.
More choices may be forthcoming, too, said Brandon Barker, vice president of Barker Produce Inc., Las Cruces.
“We test varieties every year — so many that we have to keep track of new ones to keep our crop rotation going,” he said.
Sweets have gained a lot of attention, but that market has become tempered by varieties that are marketed as sweet but technically don’t qualify, said Jeff Brechler, salesman with Edinburg, Texas-based J&D Produce.
“If the grower/packer/shipper is disciplined enough to hold to those parameters of sweet onions, you could see even more growth, but if you have a mixed bag with multiple varieties, you have different flavor profiles from different areas,” he said.
There are other misperceptions about what a sweet onion should look like, Brechler said.
“Given the excellent performance Vidalia has done, it has fed the perception that the flat onion has outperformed the others,” he said.
The Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee in Parma, Idaho, actively promotes Spanish sweets, said Sherise Jones, marketing director.
“We have always communicated the fact that Spanish Sweet are premium for cooking, and, now more than ever, our programs will highlight this,” she said.
Being able to differentiate between varieties can lead to more sales of all types of onions, Jones said.
“Retailers can benefit greatly from helping their customers understand the differences and benefits of the onions they choose,” she said.
Organic yellow onions have seen some sales growth, Smith said.
“It seems like every supermarket wants to have an organic section and there are more requests for organic onions,” he said.