Demand stays light for organic product - The Packer

Demand stays light for organic product

10/06/2009 08:55:40 AM
Andy Nelson

The organic Peruvian sweet onion category is not a growing one for most U.S. importers.

Sweet Onion Trading Co., Palm Bay, Fla., brokers a few organic Peruvian sweet onions for two customers, but the company doesn’t have a steady organic program with its Peruvian grower partners, said Barry Rogers, president.

The company learned a valuable lesson from a previous attempt to grow organic sweets in Peru.

“It seems like when we did grow them, the demand was gone,” Rogers said. “We’ve taken our lumps with that.”

A Chilean organic deal two winters ago yielded similar poor results, Rogers said. He blamed it on the economy heading south.

In the company’s Bakersfield, Calif., deal this summer, organic sweets grown by a Sweet Onion Trading growing partner wound up being packed in conventional Sunbrero-branded bags, Rogers said.

An organic Peruvian sweet onion program certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility for Register, Ga.-based Four Corners Farms, said Rawls Neville, director of sales and marketing.

When, or even if, that time comes, however, isn’t clear.

“We’ve talked about getting into it, but our customer base isn’t large enough to support a big program,” he said. “We’re definitely looking at it, though.”

The organic Peruvian sweet onion market seems to have found its level, and it’s not that high, said Kurt Schweitzer, co-owner of Keystone Fruit Marketing, Greencastle, Pa.

“We bring in a few organic for a couple of customers who absolutely need organic, but it’s not an expanding market,” he said. “There’s not growing demand for it. Everybody’s found their niche.”

The organic Peruvian sweet onion deal is not a big one, but not because of any lack of demand among U.S. consumers for organic onions, said John Vlahandreas, national onion sales director for Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC, Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Quite the contrary, he said. The demand is there, but it’s being met by U.S. growers.

“There are so many organics up here,” he said. “It seems to be the new toy.”

One company that has seen substantial growth in its Peruvian organic sweet onion program is Bland Farms LLC, Glennville, Ga., said Richard Pazderski, the company’s director of sales and marketing.

The company expects to ship about 42,000 boxes this season, up about 20% from last year, mirroring the overall expected growth of the company’s Peruvian category in 2009-10.



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