GLENNVILLE, Ga. — Though Vidalia onions remain popular throughout the U.S., in the past, shippers focused on retailers east of the Mississippi River.
In recent years, shippers and marketers have been sending increasing volumes of sweet onions to supermarket chains on the West Coast.
“Our West Coast business is really growing,” said Walt Dasher, co-owner of G&R Farms.
“A lot of areas where we have expanded sales in have never really handled Vidalias before.”
While the bulk of its volume remains in the eastern half of the U.S., Dasher said most of the grower-shipper’s expansion has involved selling to customers west of the Mississippi. The percentage of product going west has been expanding.
“It looks like it could be heavier,” Dasher said. “That region has more potential growth.”
Because of distance and freight rates, Dasher said onions shipping that far have to be the highest of quality.
About 75% of sales for G&R Farms go to retailers, Dasher said. The balance includes wholesalers that serve independent retailers.
M&T Farms, Lyons, ships about 70% of its Vidalias to retailers east of the Mississippi River, said Aries Haygood, operations manager and chairman of the Vidalia Onion Committee. The other third ships to West Coast customers.
Haygood said the West remains a tricky market because Vidalias compete against other sweet onions that have their own followings.
“It’s very hard for us to compete and get our product to the West Coast and still receive that premium for our product that we need,” he said.
John Tumino, marketing director of Richter and Co. Inc., Charlotte, N.C., which markets for Stanley Farms, Vidalia, said Vidalia onions are making their way to more new markets.
“Geographically, we are getting into more areas,” he said.
“They’re in Canada, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver. They are making inroads in those areas. The entire U.S. is becoming more interested in Vidalias.”
Vidalias do better on the West Coast during the early part of the deal, in late April, May and most of June, said Michael Blume, salesman with Keystone Fruit Marketing Inc., Greencastle, Pa.
The Walla Walla deal usually starts in late June and keeps Vidalia movement to Western retailers slow until that Northwest deal finishes in mid- to late August, he said.
Blume said Keystone usually stops shipping Vidalias west because most customers order Walla Wallas, which have a large following in that part of the country. He said buyers act differently when Texas sweet onions are on the market.
Once the Vidalia deal starts, some of the Texas sweets remain in that region when Vidalias begin shipping, Blume said.
“Demand is very good out there (in the West),” Blume said.
“Sales will increase there for the same reasons overall that demand for sweet onions increase. The buyers need the confidence that the onions they are buying are truly sweet. They have that confidence with the Vidalias.”
Though Stanley Farms, Vidalia, ships primarily to customers on the East Coast and in Canada, the grower-shipper has some loyal West Coast customers, said Brian Stanley, sales manager.
“We aren’t seeing any lessening in the East, but we have grown our shipments in the West,” he said.
“It’s hard to get product out West because of the Texas onion, which would be less expensive as we have more freight involved. We do have some hurdles to get out West because of the competition, but we’re still able to do that because of the Vidalia onion’s reputation.”