Onion suppliers say value-added continues to expand the category.
Lake Park, Ga.-based Generation Farms places special emphasis on the category, with “flexible packing and size configurations, pre-prep for kitchen applications and merchandising programs for all of our onion crops.”
“Depending on who your target audience is, convenience is important,” said Lauren Dees, marketing manager for Generation Farms.
“It cuts down on meal prep time, and that’s what customers are looking for — something to make their lives more convenient.”
Generation Farms is one of three marketers for the “tearless” Sunion, a proprietary variety that Bayer developed.
“The compounds normally found in onions that cause you to cry have been removed. It leaves you with a very sweet, mild onion flavor,” Dees said of the onion, which is grown in Washington state.
The sweet onion industry in Vidalia, Ga., deserves much credit for introducing the value-added concept to the onion business, said Billy Foster, salesman with Willard, Ohio-based Weng Farms Inc.
“The people in Vidalia are still the top in value-added,” he said.
The next wave in value-added onions likely won’t be the product as much as in packaging, Weng said.
“I think the whole thing in value-added, there’s going to be smaller packages down the road,” he said. “I don’t see 5-pound bags in the future.”
Demand for onions isn’t drying up, but the way consumers buy them is changing, Weng said.
“It’s going to smaller bags — 2, 3 pounds. If you’re a produce merchandiser and had a 3-pound bag of onions and a 2-pound bag, you could sell the 2-pounder a lot cheaper than you could sell the 3. You’re going to see some big changes.”
Some suppliers say 3-pound bags still are a good value to shoppers.
“With a cheaper medium yellow market, and even if we go to $7 or $8, a 3-pound bag is really a nice value,” said Don Ed Holmes, owner of The Onion House LLC in Weslaco, Texas.
“We’ve had an unbelievable demand on 3-pounder. The price has been cheap, and the retailers have done a good job of working with those cheap numbers.”
Trent Falkner, salesman with Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos., agreed that packaging was becoming central to onion sales in the value-added category.
“Bagged onions seem to be a hot spot for most retailers whether it is a 2-pound, 3-pound, 5-pound, 10-pound or bigger,” he said.
“Giving the consumer the ability to pick up a bag of onions is a huge convenience factor. The consumer can toss a bag of three to four onions in their cart and move on to the next item on their list.”
It’s helpful to buyers, too, said Brenden Kent, vice president of Prosser, Wash.-based grower-shipper Sunset Produce LLC.
“People are more in tune with pack sizes, for handling and shrink,” he said.
“The 5s and 10s continue to be very hot. A lot of customers like to be able to pick up the bag with the bar code on it, know where the onion came from, instead of out of a loose bin. When it’s in a package with ‘Grown in the USA’ on it, it works much better.”
A customized approach adds value, too, said Steve Baker, managing partner with Ontario, Ore.-based grower-shipper Baker & Murakami Produce Co.
“We believe with our new line we put in last fall we can offer to buyers the ability to create for them customer-specific sizing within one-tenth of a millimeter,” he said. “For some buyers, precision sizing is a must.”
Sometimes, there’s value in a simple message, said Herb Haun, chairman of the Parma, Idaho-based Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee.
“The Onion Committee focuses on promoting fresh-to-market onions, and we stress that customers can get their own creative inspirations going with the versatility that a fresh onion can provide,” he said.
L&M’s Falkner notes that the industry is always on the lookout for some new value-added notion.
Wayne Mininger, executive vice president of the Greeley, Colo.-based National Onion Association, agreed.
“Onions adapt so well in every cultural and ethnic category that people are always coming up with a little bit of a new angle to bring some interest with whatever they’re doing with onions,” he said. “We’re pleased to see that.”