( Keystone Fruit Marketing )

Greencastle, Pa.-based Keystone Fruit Marketing Inc., a part of Los Angeles-based Progressive Produce, has upgraded its onion facility in Walla Walla, Wash., and is working to develop its line of Walla Walla red sweet onions, said Dan Borer, general manager.

“Besides a $2 million renovation equipment-wise in Walla Walla, it’s always changing,” he said. “We update our marketing program every year, sometimes twice a year.”

That includes the red Walla Walla sweet, he said.

“We started last year with a true red sweet onions — it’s actually a Walla Walla red sweet,” he said. 

“To my knowledge, nobody’s ever sold true red granex sweet onion, so we started producing it two years ago commercially, and we’ll be into bigger production this year. It’s exciting because we know consumers prefer red for taste. The impression is red is sweet, so we’re trying to develop something that’s consistently sweet. Keystone and other growers have been after this for years.”

Developing large commercial volumes of the variety is a time-consuming process, Borer said.

“You have to remember the Walla Walla onion is open (pollination), which means we collect our own seed,” Borer said. “That’s a whole generation of growing just for seed just to get out, and perpetuation of the crop is by growing your own seed.”

This year, the company expects to ship fewer than 50 loads of red Walla Walla sweets, Borer said.

“Where it’s headed in the future, we’ll see how it’s accepted,” he said. “It was offered in the Northwest and Canada on a regional basis last year, and we’re going to be expanding that this year.”