Retail promotions turn short season into long profits

03/29/2013 05:04:00 PM
Coral Beach

VIDALIA, Ga. — Growers and marketers want retailers to use the limited availability of Vidalia onions as a promotional tool to set the Georgian seasonal sweets apart from other onions.

“Seasonality is a major part of our marketing plan,” said Matt Curry, president of Curry & Co., which is marketing Vidalia onions from recently formed Sweet Vidalia Farms LLC, Collins, Ga.

“Vidalia sweets are so well known we feel they can be celebrated as much as the most popular summer fruits.”

Curry said a sweet onion and blueberry salsa his company offered at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit in October is an example of how retailers can set up in-store tastings combining two seasonal items.

Such promotions can help Vidalias secure their hold on a large, seasonal chunk of increasingly crowded sweet onion real estate in the produce aisle, said Bob Stafford, manager of the Vidalia Onion Business Council.

“The sweet onion category is increasing, and we are doing what we can to capture more of the category,” Stafford said.

Stafford said the industry sells 5 million 40-pound units of Vidalia onions each year.

Acreage this year is holding steady at about 12,600 acres. But yields continue to increase because of more efficient growing and handling practices.

Counts have grown from about 60,000 per acre to as much as 100,000 onions per acre, Stafford said.

Increasing yields are not a problem because demand still exceeds supply, Stafford said. However, there is an annual challenge to ensure that the Vidalia onions get the shelf space they need, when they need it.

“The sweet onion business is getting crowded,” said John Shuman, president of grower-shipper Shuman Produce Inc., Reidsville. “So we want to empower our retail customers.”

Mark Shuman, John’s brother and general manager for Shuman Produce, said the company is “well positioned to help retailers have a strong Vidalia season. The Vidalia onion business is about how many onions you can handle in a six-week window.”

The relatively short Vidalia sweet onion season provides retailers a perfect product for temporary promotions on end caps and stand-alone displays, said Marty Kamer, partner and sales manager at Keystone Fruit Marketing Inc., Greencastle, Pa.

Keystone is the exclusive sales agent for Vidalia onions from Cowart Farms, Lyons.

“Vidalias are a most recognized consumer brand in produce,” Kamer said, encouraging retailers to use that to their advantage. “Consumers respond to that kind of brand recognition.”



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