The Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee in Walla Walla, Wash., has no more than $50,000 a year for promotions.
“Most of what we do is administrative to keep the marketing order alive and stay in compliance with our rules that we drafted several years ago when we implemented this marketing order in the mid-1990s,” said Mike Locati, chairman of the committee and president of Walla Walla-based Locati Farms.
There’s not a lot left for active promotions for a deal that typically runs no more than about 10 weeks, Locati said.
It’s a blessing, Locati said, that the product has a long history and good name recognition.
“The biggest part of our promotion is the name that’s been building over the 100 years or so we’ve been growing them,” he said.
The marketing order brings needed stability, too, Locati said.
“Food safety and the certification are big parts, and we try to promote that it gives us consistency at the marketplace,” he said.
Buyers also can get price incentives for purchasing in bigger volumes, he said.
The marketing committee’s most visible presence comes at the annual Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival in Walla Walla, said Kathy Fry-Trommald, the committee’s marketing director.
This year’s festival is scheduled for July 14-15.
“It’s a great marketing tool,” Fry-Trommald said.
“It’s something to do with pride in a product that comes from your home state that is well known across the country and stands for something.”
The festival draws 10,000 or more visitors, Fry-Trommald said.
“People call me from all over the U.S. about when it’s going to be and what we’re going to be doing,” she said.
The festival features a number of onion-centric events, including French onion soup, salsa and salad competitions.
There’s also a competition for the biggest onion — last year, the winner weighed about 3 pounds, Fry-Trommald said.
There also is the “most pristine onion,” and judges will determine the best market box and bag, she said.
As of May 28, about 20-30 restaurants in the Walla Walla Valley had signed up to participate in the first Sweet Onion Restaurant Week, July 9-15.
“We’re going to get each one of the restaurants to give us one item they’re going be to serving and we’re going to be doing a bunch of promoting each restaurant that is involved,” Fry-Trommald said.
Other promotional activities are perhaps less visible, but still important, she said.
In April, the committee attended the Northwest Foodservice Trade Show in Portland, Ore., she said.
“It’s more keeping our name out on the tip of people’s tongues, because we know restaurants are whole different game,” she said.
Name recognition is a key to Walla Walla sweet onion promotions, said Matt Curry, president of Curry & Co., Brooks Ore.
“It’s a sweet onion that people trust and has a loyal following in many regions,” he said.