Certification remains a debate

09/14/2012 10:42:00 AM
Melissa Shipman

To certify or not to certify.

That’s the question sweet onion growers from Peru are facing this season as more retailers start to request that onions be certified sweet.

“It’s becoming more popular,” said Margret DeBruyn, chief executive officer of DeBruyn Produce Co., Zeeland, Mich.

National Onion Labs, Collins, Ga., offers growers a new kind of test that can certify onions as sweet.

No testing is currently mandatory, nor is it necessarily standard procedure in the industry.

“It’s all voluntary, and it’s driven by retailer concern for flavor quality,” said David Burrell, president of National Onion Labs.

Burrell says the Pungency Plus flavor testing program can test for what the consumer will actually taste when eating an onion, specifically the heat, strength, off flavors and sweetness.

“Samples are collected at the fields and then we do the advanced flavor analysis so the growers will learn to better manage the factors affecting flavor,” he said. “It’s all about making a better product for consumers.”

Expenses

Still, not all growers are ready to jump on board.

“Most people haven’t really gotten into it yet,” DeBruyn said. “At this point, the funding and justification for that isn’t really there.”

Because of several past seasons of low profits, she said, the added expense of going through the certification process will not be an easy thing for most in the industry. The process can cost at least 25 cents per bag, which may not sound like a lot, but it adds up.

“Every penny counts, and one of the challenges with this that I’ve seen is that as much as retailers want that certification, they aren’t wanting to give up their quarter, or even half of their quarter, to the grower,” she said.

Plus, with all the demands of food safety certifications and other required costs, DeBruyn doesn’t expect to see many companies that feel comfortable paying extra money.

“Growers are considering it, but they want to know who is going to take out that money when it comes to the extra expense,” she said.

Burrell says the cost for the testing is minor in comparison to the amount of added sales it will bring in.

“The money will come from increased sales resulting from increased consumer satisfaction. Consumers will come back, and they will buy more onions,” he said. “Increasing the quality of the product has a huge impact on repeat sales.”


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