Anticipation for Vidalia onions ramps up at retailers

03/29/2012 01:04:00 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

GLENNVILLE, Ga. — Weeks before the Vidalia season begins, shippers visit retailers telling them about the upcoming crop and how they can promote it.

The new season always brings strong retail interest, shippers say.

Walt Dasher, co-owner of G&R Farms, said retailers this season are picking up their interest in the start of the Vidalia deal.

“Every week I travel, there’s more chatter as you get closer to the start of the season,” he said.

“For several years, there was a little bit of a lull in the whole Vidalia subject and excitement. It wasn’t what it used to be many years ago. It was kind of dead. But I’m beginning to see during the past two to three years, I’m beginning to see a lot of the excitement that used to be involved in the deal’s beginning coming back around.”

Delbert Bland, president of Bland Farms LLC, said retailers do a good job merchandising Vidalia onions.

“Vidalias are an exciting item for them,” he said.

“One of the major retailers told me that the Vidalias helped him get out of the gutter in his category. There’s always lots of excitement around Vidalias and they are usually pretty easy and fun to merchandise. We’ve seen an increase in secondary displays in meat departments. People are placing Vidalias throughout the store.”

Marty Kamer, vice president for Keystone Fruit Marketing Inc., Greencastle, Pa., said he sees many retailers enthusiastically merchandising Vidalia onions.

“In general, once the industry starts shipping, we will see Vidalias on the end caps and will see big incremental sales promotional displays in the departments,” Kamer said.

“That will be there all through the spring and summer. The retailers do some great things even above displays that are extra special.”

Some of those efforts, Kamer said, involve store display contests, demonstrations and grilling events featuring Vidalia onions and other spring and summer produce.

Keystone markets onions grown by Cowart Farms, Lyons.

The Vidalia name resonates throughout the Southeast, said Derek Rodgers, director of sales for Sweet Onion Trading Co., Melbourne, Fla.

“Especially where we are, with our office in Florida, we have a lot of Southeastern business,” he said.

“Vidalias are a big staple down here, so it generates a lot of excitement amongst retailers.”

John Shuman, president of Shuman Produce Inc., Reidsville, said the Vidalia name remains strong at retail.

“The Vidalia onion is a very popular sweet onion throughout the year,” he said.

“It’s synonymous with springtime and outdoor cooking. We recommend Vidalias remain centrally located within the produce department.”

Shuman said 5-pound consumer bags remain the most popular Vidalia retail offering. He said consumer bags constitute 40% of Shuman’s total sales, up from 15% 10-15 years go.

R.E. Hendrix, president of Hendrix Produce Inc., Metter, said Vidalias generate much excitement among consumers and retailers.

“They (the retailers) are ready for a change,” he said.

“Everyone’s ready for something new. If they’ve been doing Mexican onions, they’re ready for something new. Vidalias are still a premium. Like a Texas guy told me, when we start, their business goes south. Their sales go to foodservice, where they ship more into that area. The chain store business goes to the Vidalia.”

In sweet onions, Vidalias remain the star in the produce aisle, said Benjie Richter, a partner in Richter and Co. Inc., Charlotte, N.C.

“The Vidalia is a magic name,” he said.

“Of course, there are sweet onions year-round, but there’s only one Vidalia. That name is synonymous with the sweet, mild and wonderful flavor of the Vidalia. A lot of our trade has built up tremendous retail reputation on the Vidalias.”



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