With sweet onions becoming a staple in many kitchens and accounting for nearly a third of total onion sales, retailers should do more to grow sales, grower-shippers say.
“Some of the best displays we’ve seen incorporate both bulk and bagged product and make use of our boxes and bins to build a colorful waypoint in the produce aisle,” said John Shuman, president and director of sales for Shuman Produce Inc., Reidsville, Ga.
“These displays are effective in drawing attention to sweet onions while offering the consumer options and an opportunity to learn more,” said Shuman, who sells flat RealSweet varieties year-round in high-graphic consumer bags featuring printed recipes and quick-response codes.
During the summer, Vidalias are easy to promote for the start of the outdoor grilling season, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, Shuman said.
“Vidalia onions are a staple at summer cookouts,” he said. “We recommend that our retail partners add displays to meet the incremental increase in demand.”
Shuman Produce also plans to participate in the Vidalia Onion Committee’s Sweet Vidalia Flavors of Summer promotion, which has a theme of outdoor entertaining.
“The combination of point-of-sale materials, a national consumer contest, coupons and social media activities will build excitement in the produce department and drive sales throughout the season,” Shuman said.
Shuman Produce has created its own promotional programs for the campaign, including offers available only through its RealSweet brand.
Barry Rogers, president of Melbourne, Fla.-based Sweet Onion Trading Co., said retailers can increase sweet onion sales by keeping displays looking fresh and displaying broad color blocks of red, yellow, white and sweet onions.
“Country of origin and pricing signage should be prominent on the display,” Rogers said. “Cross-merchandising items, such as avocados, tomatoes, onion blossom cutters and batter, can be placed strategically nearby.”
Consumer demand for 2-, 3-, and 5-pound bags go up when bulk prices are high, he said, and drop when bulk prices decrease.
Rogers sees more sweet onions appearing in frozen and canned foods at the retail level.
Sarah Seebran, marketing manager at Glennville, Ga.-based Bland Farms, said she’d like retailers to take advantage of the many platforms they have, from websites to loyalty programs, to educate consumers about sweet onions and onions in general.
“Point-of-sale material is very important,” Seebran said, “and our research shows people will buy a sweet onion if a recipe calls for it.”
She said she’d love to see more signs explaining the different types of onions, their flavor profiles and uses.
“If we can convert a consumer from an 80-cent ring on a pound of conventional onions to $1 or $1.20 a pound for sweet onions, you’ve upped your sell.”