Europe, Asia and even other South American produce-consuming markets often play a role in price and supplies available to the U.S.
That rule doesn’t seem to apply as much in the onion business, marketers say.
Growers and shippers of Peruvian sweets say their onions are generally U.S.-centric.
“I know there are some onions that are sent from Peru to Europe,” said Walt Dasher, co-owner of Glennville, Ga.-based G&R Farms.
But, he said, that’s an exception.
“I think since the U.S. market is so strong ... a lot of exporters in Peru really do not focus on other areas because the demand is from the States,” Dasher said.
“And it’s an easy travel time — 17 days versus 30 days to Europe.”
Another factor is market familiarity with sweet onions, which are not as popular in Europe as they are across the U.S., Dasher said.
“The consumption of sweet onions in Europe is still new, and they’re not willing to pay the prices it takes to make the programs profitable,” he said.
Europe’s appetite is whetted more for a “Spanish, cooking-style onion” than a sweet variety, he said.
Delbert Bland, owner of Vidalia, Ga.-based Bland Farms LLC, agreed.
“Europe and Asia are still not considered sweet onion markets,” Bland said.
“You’ll occasionally do some business exporting out of Peru into those countries, but at the same time, the people buying sweet onions out of Peru truly appreciate a sweet onion because Vidalia, as well as Peru, normally brings a premium over the regular sweet and domestic sweet onions.”
Even the Peruvian market isn’t much of a customer for its own sweet onions, Bland said.
Peruvians tastes gravitate toward a “hotter” onion, such as a grano, Bland said.
“They’re not worried about pungency,” he said.
Barry Rogers, president of Grant, Fla.-based Sweet Onion Trading Corp., agreed sweet onion sales opportunities in Peru are limited, but for a different reason.
“The Peruvian market is a red-onion market,” he said.
There is plenty of demand for onions in Peru, and, on the off-chance that supplies of other varieties come up short, the market dynamics will change, Bland said.
“When you have a short supply of onions for Chile or Colombia or other areas, they will definitely pull from the supply of sweet onions, and they’ll pay a premium if they’re short, so, it varies from time to time and in different areas,” he said.The domestic market also will get some “off-grade” production, Bland said.
Some markets outside the U.S. will buy certain sizes of onions, which provides some sales outside the U.S., said Mark Breimeister, sales director with Savannah, Ga.-based Oso Sweet offshoot Saven Corp. in Detroit.
“What we do is certain sizes that are in demand for certain parts of the world, so we do have a presence in Europe,” Breimeister said.
That ensures that Oso Sweet onions from Peru will go to nine European countries, Breimeister said.
Sales in South America generally fills gaps, he said.
“Sometimes, when product itself is just tight down in other South American countries, there will be some deals made from one country to the other, but that’s not so much selling it as a sweet onion,” he said. “It’s more filling the need for onions down there.”
Customers in South American countries will help growers in Peru by scooping up smaller-sized onions that U.S. customers normally wouldn’t want, said Karl Bonhomme, president of Bonhomme International Trading Corp., Miami.
“Chile, Colombia, Venezuela markets have helped the Peruvian deal in the past, because they help the farmers get rid of the smaller-sized onions,” he said.
Spain has been buying an increasing number of sweet onions, although that number is small, compared to the U.S., Bonhomme said.
“But the regional market is important because it helps stabilize the price,” he said. “If you do not have the regional markets, you end up having a lot of small onions in the U.S. market and that has an effect in general to the pricing.”
Global demand may change in the future, though, said Mauro Suazo, business development manager for Customized Brokers Inc. in Medley, Fla.
“Asia is an emerging market with lots of purchasing power and Peru is taking advantage of that, but the sweet market, the U.S. will be by far the dominant market for many years to come,” he said.
For the moment, though, the U.S. remains the major destination for Peruvian onions, said John Shuman, president of Vidalia, Ga.-based Shuman Produce Inc.
“The overall impact on Peru’s shipments to the U.S. in relation to the European, Asian and domestic markets is minimal,” he said.