( Courtesy G&R Farms )

Peru plays more than just a supporting role in the U.S. sweet onion market, growers and shippers say.

Some point out that Peru’s season lasts longer than that of any other region.

“It’s a very critical role because it’s the only flat sweet onion available after Vidalia,” said Delbert Bland, president of Glennville, Ga.-based Vidalia grower-shipper Bland Farms LLC

The “flat” point is key, Bland noted.

“All the Midwestern sweet onions are more a globe-type; people prefer the Peru onion over the domestic,” he said. “The Peru is most like a Vidalia as you can get. We do all our growing there.” 

Mike Blume, sales and marketing director for Greencastle, Pa.-based Keystone Fruit Marketing Co., agreed.

“There’s sweet onions grown in the United States on the West Coast, but a lot of retailers and consumers prefer the flat sweet onions out of Peru,” he said. “And being a six- to seven-month season, 50 percent of the time, the onions are coming out of Peru.”

Peru’s onion deal plays a particularly important role on the U.S. East Coast, said John Williams, sales director with Lyons, Ga.-based Vidalia onion grower-shipper L.G. Herndon Jr. Farms Inc.

“That’s the time of year any time a sweet onion is coming out of the West Coast -- Nevada or California, but on the East Coast, it’s hard to compete with the Peru onions,” Williams said. 

Peru’s deal generally lasts six to seven months – from late August to, sometimes, early March, so it has become a major participant in the U.S. sweet onion market, Williams said.

“It used to be Chilean sweet onions would come in February and March, but there’s no more Chilean sweet onions coming into the U.S., as far as I can see,” he said. “It’s just changed only in the last seven or eight years.”

A sustainable supply is a major asset for Peru, said Mark Breimeister, sales director with Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Potandon Produce, which sells Peruvian sweets under the Green Giant label.

Peru’s arid growing conditions have created an ideal situation for such growth, Williams said.

“They just realized they have consistent weather for that long a period,” he said. “Most come out of the Ica region and then Arequipa, further south. Then they plant some late varieties that also enable them to go longer.” 

Bland noted that his company’s sweet onion production on 2,000 acres in Peru approaches its volume in Georgia. 

“The volume is not quite as much as Vidalia, but it’s pretty close. Usually, we have 2 million 40-pound equivalent boxes of Vidalias, compared to 1.8 million out of Peru,” he said.

As the Vidalia season ends, Peru provides a smooth transition, said Walt Dasher, co-owner of Glennville-based Vidalia grower-shipper G&R Farms.

The Peruvian deal also provides an economic boost for everyone involved, Dasher said.

“(It) gives us Vidalia producers more ways to help manage our overhead expense and invest back into our facilities and equipment, which has become so expensive in the past five years and was very hard to justify making expensive upgrades when you could only use for Vidalia season alone, but having the import program, we can expense the equipment out better and secure a better workforce of employees knowing they/we will have work 12 months out of the year,” Dasher said.

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