Courtesy River Point FarmsRiver Point Farms president Bob Hale stands on a pile of 18 million pounds of red onions in the company’s high-tech climate controlled warehouse, where it stores red onions beginning in September and ending as late as July.Red onions are hot, and it’s not just because of their vibrant color.
“They’re definitely more popular, and consumption is increasing,” said Chris Cramer, professor of horticulture at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.
“A lot of foodservice and retail food outlets tend to use red onions more,” Cramer said. “If you look at Pizza Hut, Subway and salad bars, they’re using them a lot more than they are yellow onions.”
A shortage of seeds for certain classes of red onions in the past three or four years has kept the market tight, Cramer said, but he’s hoping to release at least one new red variety this year that should please New Mexico growers.
“It’s an intermediate day-type that would mature in July for us,” he said. “Most cultivars mature in June.”
Bob Hale, president of Hermiston, Ore.-based River Point Farms, a major red supplier to national restaurant chains, said a third of River Point’s processing was reds four years ago, and that figure is now up to 50%.
He said general onion consumption runs about 85% yellow and 15% red.
Organic grower Viva Tierra, based in Sedro-Woolley, Wash., had a very good year for reds in a year when they were in short supply for both conventional and organic growers, said Matt Roberts, marketing and sales manager.
“I think there’s a lot of demand out there for a good red onion and we’ll probably continue to grow the supply,” said Roberts.
“There are certain seeds that do a lot better in storage,” he said, “and this year we were fortunate our grower was able to get the seed he wanted and it was a hot market, so no storage problems.”
Peri & Sons Farms, based in Yerington, Nev., plans to debut its new Sweet Red this fall in consumer mesh packs and 40-pound bulk cartons.
“Our Sweet Red recently tested milder than other late-year reds with good sugar levels that hold up well when cooked, grilled or served raw in salads,” said Teri Gibson, director of marketing and customer relations.
Gibson said the hand-harvested red with a semi-globe shape will be available from California’s Firebaugh area from June into August. The Nevada crop runs from September through December.
At Salinas, Calif.-based Tanimura & Antle, mild, flat Artisan Sweet Italian Red Onions continue to be a consumer favorite, director of marketing Diana McClean said.
“Our branded consumer bags differentiate the Artisan brand very successfully within the onion category,” McClean said.
“For our loose onions, we offer a branded bin that again serves to visually differentiate our onion variety in the produce aisle.”
Jason Morse, executive chef for Douglas County School District, Castle Rock, Colo., who coordinates up to 30,000 school lunches a day, said red onions make dishes more eye-catching.
“If you sauté them on high heat, the red color just brightens right up,” Morse said.
“On a pizza, reds give good color and a nice onion flavor,” he said. “Kids eat with their eyes, and if you add colorful onions they can see it looks good and tastes good as they walk through the lunch line.”