Georgia woes open door for other states’ sweet onions

05/17/2013 01:50:00 PM
Cynthia David

Courtesy Shuman ProduceGeorgia onion growers expect a poor crop of Vidalias this year, but growers in other parts of the country — including the West and Southwest — are ready to fill the gap. With a poor crop of Georgia’s famous Vidalia onions expected this spring, other domestic onion growers are eager to show off their sweet side.

“Based on sales, we think more and more consumers are taking a shine to sweet onions,” said Teri Gibson, director of marketing & customer relations for Yerington, Nev.-based Peri & Sons Farms, home of the round certified Sweetie Sweet, available from July to December.

“There’s more information available about sweet onions and more culinary exposure on TV and the Internet,” Gibson said.

“Consumers are learning that U.S. sweet onions are more widely available and they come in globe as well as flat shapes,” she said.

“In the end it’s all about the flavor, not the shape or the growing region.”

James Johnson, vice president of Carzalia Valley Produce in Columbus, N.M, said he’s expanding his flagship Sweet Carzalia seed every year.

“Demand for sweet is growing among certain retailers,” Johnson said, “and we’re able to take care of them from May 20 to Aug. 15.”

Jay Hill, president of transportation and growers at Hatch, N.M..-based Hill Farms and Shiloh Produce Inc., said sales have been steady, and his vibrant purple box of sweet onions under the Sweet Heart label has been well received.

What New Mexican growers really need, said Hill, is a Willard Scott, the Vidalia-loving Today Show weatherman from the 1980s who often promoted his favorite onion and even munched them raw on air.

Chris Franzoy, president of Young Guns Produce Inc., in Deming, N.M., said his round, jumbo-sized Young Guns sweet onions, which make up 15% of his total volume, are gaining ground with retailers.

“Our sweet onion program increases slightly every year,” said Franzoy, who markets them in a high-graphic carton.

In Edinburg, Texas, salesman Jeff Brechler of J&D Produce Inc. said he’ll gladly compare the company’s proprietary Honey Sweet variety to any other sweet onion.

The big, light-skinned onions have become so popular, Brechler said consumers across North America call and e-mail when they can’t find them.

Quality and supplies look good and markets are stable for Honey Sweets coming out of Texas, he said May 2, and New Mexican plants look healthy for an early to mid-June start.

Bob Hale, president of River Point Farms, Hermiston, Ore., said he’s seeing more emphasis on new domestic sweet onion varieties he hopes to store longer to compete with imports.


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