Bulk displays still carry most of the weight of onion sales out of Washington and Oregon, but consumer packs — particularly the stalwart 3-pound bags — continue to make gains at retail, growers and shippers say.
“The majority of our customers take packaged product, either in a mesh bag for whole onions or a lined tote or carton for our processed items,” said Carly Kwak, sales director for Hermiston, Ore.-based River Point Farms.
Of course, growers and shippers say, it all depends upon the customer.
“Some retailers go 85% bulk,” said Shawn Hartley, vice president of sales and owner of Syracuse, Utah-based Utah Onions Inc., which grows and ships onions from Washington and Oregon’s Columbia Basin.
“It all depends on the retailer. We have a retailer that doesn’t take any bulk and we have another retailer that takes almost all,” he said.
In terms of consumer packs, the 3-pound bag remains dominant.
“Most of the time, that’s the package that matches up with the consumer with a good price point,” Hartley said.
Big-box retailers, such as Costco, often will go with even bigger packs, Hartley said.
Brenden Kent, vice president of Prosser, Wash.-based Sunset Produce LLC, agreed that the ultimate arbiter of the bulk-versus-packaged question depends on the customer.
“I’ve seen at the retail level (that) the consumer package thing is still growing a little bit, but we also saw a little bit of an uptick in our bulk items the last couple of years,” he said.
One retail customer upped its orders on bulk in the past year, Kent said.
“I do think the consumer thing will continue to outpace it just because it’s easier for the consumer to grab a 3-pound bag versus 2 pounds of jumbo yellow onions,” Kent said.
Sunset’s most common consumer bag is the 3-pounder, Kent said.
There’s some extra marketing value there, he said.
“We do the carry-fresh bag, which is the fully wrapped onions, which is the fully wrapped onion bag, which is kind of the latest and greatest in technology,” Kent said.
Bags also provide an opportunity to diversify a bit, Kent said.
“We were the first ones to come out with that tri-color onion bag, which is all three colors in the same bag,” he said.
Packaging material, particularly the old “wine-glass” mesh bag that features a label, are giving way more to high-graphic easy-to-carry bags, Kent said. However, he said he suspects the established mesh bag always will be available.
But shippers constantly have to come up with new ideas in packaging, he said.
“You constantly have to innovate, there’s no doubt,” Kent said. “This newer packaging is getting more popular and some of the retail segments are definitely preferring that more and more.”
Bryon Magnaghi, produce trader for FC Bloxom, a Seattle wholesaler, agreed packaging was making gains on bulk.
“Bulk is still prevalent, but consumer packaging, I think, is increasing,” he said.
Many retailers are looking for packaging that gets noticed and delivers freshness and high-quality product.
“Especially with some of the new packaging, the vert bags, you can basically have a display in the package itself,” Magnaghi said.
The new packaging costs more, Magnaghi said.
“But it stands out more on the shelf, I think,” he said.