Texas onion shippers continue to battle recession

02/24/2012 09:51:00 AM
Jim Offner

The persistent downward trend in the U.S. economy has had an uneven effect on the Texas onion industry, growers and shippers say.

Some have reported decreases in overall sales volume. Others said consumers are buying smaller quantities. Some said a down economy hasn’t affected their overall sales numbers, though retail numbers have increased and foodservice sales have slumped.

Economic factors have put a squeeze on prices in some cases, some shippers said.

"Normally, we start out with the 1015s at somewhere between $12-14. This year, we’ll be lucky to hold $8-10," said Tommy Whitlock, salesman with Boerne, Texas-based Progreso Produce LLC.

The problem goes beyond the onion category, Whitlock said.

"I think the economy has got a lot to do with everything, not just onions," he said.

Consumers have changed their buying habits, he said.

"When people cut back, they don’t have to pick up 3 pounds of onions. They can just pick up 1 or 2, so I think the economy has a lot to do with the way people are buying," he said.

The reasons behind consumer buying habits are subject to guesswork, said J Allen Carnes, president of Winter Garden Produce, Uvalde, Texas.

"I don’t know what it is, but it’s pretty depressed right now," he said.

The numbers have shown that onions are not immune to economic downturns, as some observers might have thought earlier, Carnes said.

"Sales have been down," said Chad Szutz, general manager of A-W Produce Co. in Weslaco, Texas. "We didn’t have the big pulls during Thanksgiving and Christmas that we usually do."

However, Glennville, Ga.-based sweet onion grower-shipper Bland Farms LLC, which moves about 250,000 50-pound units of Texas sweet onions annually at its Raymondville, Texas, operation, said its sales numbers have remained strong.

"We had really good business as we went into the recession and then saw an increase in business," said Rich Pazderski, sales director.

Onion consumption hasn’t taken any blows from the recession, according to Chris Eddy, salesman with Crescent Fruit & Vegetable LLC, based in Edinburg, Texas.

Food-oriented TV networks have continued to promote onion usage, which has helped maintain consumption, Eddy said.

"That hasn’t hurt," he said. "They use them in all kinds of recipes."



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