With a basic staple item like onions, retailers don’t want — or need — to get too ambitious with the choices they carry, New Mexico onion shippers say.
“Just a mix is what they want,” said Dencil Russell, shed manager at Arrey, N.M.-based Desert Spring. “Mostly mediums is what they prefer.”
Retail customers look for mediums and, in some cases, larger-sized onions, said Debbie Porter, co-owner of Hatch, N.M.-based Hatch Valley Produce.
“Mediums and jumbos, and I think we’ll be fine on those,” she said.
In some cases, retailers may be going a size up in bags, Porter said.
“I know Walmart’s going to a 4-pounder, instead of their normal 3-pounder,” she said. “Everybody else, I think, will be the same.”
Russell said he had noticed a different trend.
“I’d say everybody is trying to go to the smaller pack,” he said.
Jay Hill, a salesman with Hatch-based Shiloh Produce Inc., has noticed more customized requests from retail customers.
“Retailers are starting to ask for more specific packs,” he said. “They’ll ask for a 3-pounder, seven to eight onions of a specific size. Some of the industry is demanding to have their own pack instead of whatever fits in the 3-pound.”
Pack sizes from J&D Produce in Deming likely won’t change much this season, said Jeff Brechler, marketing director for the Edinburg, Texas-based grower-shipper.
“Our presentations have stayed the same, with 40-pound bulk, the 3-pound bag and the 5-pound bag,” he said. “We’ve not had any requests to go to a smaller bag. There’s some talk of maybe trying a 10-pound bag, but that’s been in the industry for awhile. It depends their set and they may juggle sizes instead of maybe putting a large medium in a 5-pound onion, they may look at a jumbo or vice-versa. Sometimes it’s hard to get around how they’re thinking.”
How about locally grown programs among New Mexico retailers this summer?
“We’ve got a little bit working with some local retailers on some homegrown but, to be honest, it’s tough for us to talk about going on ads and things like that when we still don’t know how sizing and volume is going to shake out,” said James Johnson, vice president of Columbus, N.M.-based Carzalia Valley Produce.
Johnson’s reservations stem in large part from the below-zero temperatures that young plants had to endure in February and that stands to cut into early-season volume by as much as 40 percent, in some cases.
“It’s not a typical year, so I think everybody in the industry is kind of nervous about jumping out and making any big moves this year because nobody knows where we’re going to be in three weeks,” Johnson said.
Hill agreed with that assessment.
“Retail promotion, it’s hard,” Hill said. “After the freeze hit, there was already some talk about starting ads done. A lot of guys were jumping on $10, $11. We could be looking at $16 jumbos. Retail has kind of backed off a little bit.”
It doesn’t help that a locally grown program has never gotten much traction, Hill said.
“The New Mexico Department of Ag has been trying for years, but it’s just never capitalized,” he said. “There’s never really been a push for a homegrown onion here.”