“We’re very pleased with the Vidalia crop so far. We’re about two weeks in and the quality is excellent,” Bland said.
Bland began shipping onions on April 16, despite a legal battle with Georgia Agricultural Commissioner Gary Black which set the official start date for the deal to be on April 21 this year. He said he simply started when the onions were ready.
Better storage techniques have helped increase demand for the Vidalia onion deal, simply because the season can last longer.
“We used to run out sometime in July, but the quality is much better and we can do a better job of protecting and storing onions now so they’ll remain fresh with a longer shelf life,” Bland said.
Walla Walla sweet onions aren’t a storage onion, according to Dan Borer, general manager for Greencastle, Pa.-based Keystone Fruit Marketing, Inc., which makes their season a little shorter, although the onions are still available for a good six- or eight-week time frame each year.
Borer expects this year’s Walla Walla crop to begin slightly later than normal, in late June instead of mid-June, due to cooler weather conditions.
With the increase in demand for sweet onions, repeat customers are a large part of the deal.
Bland said that the best way to attract more customers to the sweet onion crop is for them to taste one.
“Everybody’s tastes are unique, but I’d say 99% of people would like a Vidalia onion, and want another one, after they’ve tried it,” he said.
The sweet onion deal, particularly the Walla Wallas and Vidalias, have developed quite a following, something social media can help with.
Other sweet onion shippers also expect a strong season.
“We have just started packing our Artisan sweet red onions in Yuma, Ariz., and the Imperial Valley. We have ample supply with our San Joaquin crop just around the corner,” said Anthony Mazzuca, onion commodity manager for Salinas, Calif.-based Tanimura & Antle.
He said retailers appreciate the sweet red variety as being a mild, versatile onion to provide something different to consumers.
“Sizing in Yuma and Imperial is mostly jumbo and extra jumbo, with quality being very strong,” Mazzuca said in an e-mail.