KANSAS CITY — Shippers of imported and domestic fresh sweet onions are expecting bountiful supplies of high-quality product —and, as a result, great promotional opportunities for US grocers.

The bulk of the sweet onions shipping this fall from Glennville, Ga.-based Bland Farms will come from Peru, with the balance from California and Nevada, said Troy Bland, the company’s CEO.

Heading into the Peruvian deal, Bland Farms was expecting good quality and volumes.

“We’ve had optimal growing conditions in Peru, and our crop looks excellent,” Bland said. “We are currently expecting to have more normal sizing this year, and we’re looking forward to providing our customers with the highest quality Premium Sweet Onions. We expect to have great promotional volumes available.”

In 2020, due to a shorter Vidalia, Ga., season, Bland Farms began its Peruvian deal much earlier than normal. This year, by contrast, the company had an exceptional Vidalia crop, which allowed it to ship its Vidalia storage crop longer than normal. As a result, Bland is expecting volumes from Peru to be a slightly lower in comparison to last year.

As early pioneers in the Peruvian sweet onion industry, Reidsville, Ga.-based Shuman Farms is heavily invested in the region with a full-time staff and infrastructure to support its program.

The company recently updated its facility and packing house in Peru with new grading lines and sorting equipment that will improve the quality of product and allow for a more efficient final repack in Georgia, said John Shuman, president.

“We believe our RealSweet Peruvian sweet onions are the premium sweet onion that allows retailers to provide the same quality of sweet onion to our customers year-round, helping them build sales and consistency in the category,” he said.

Variety the key

Variety of pack and display options is a crucial component of Shuman Farms’ retail program. The company offers a wide variety of packaging options for retailers, including large display bins, consumer bags, display-ready containers and cartons designed to create meal solution opportunities in the produce department and drive incremental sales.

Based on Shuman Farms’ own consumer consumption and purchase behavior research, Shuman said the company knows that the sweet onion consumer is 55 years old or older living in a 2-person household, with an annual income between $50,000 - $75,000. And that the average consumer eats 1.6 pounds of sweet onions per year.

That same research shows that sweet onions are great for other fresh perimeter foods. When sweet onions are in consumers’ baskets or carts, they’re more likely to purchase fresh beef, tomatoes, potatoes, squash, mushrooms and peppers.

Sweet onions are a popular add to salads and ethnic and beef dishes.

“We encourage retailers to build cross-merchandising displays in the produce department as well as the meat department to take advantage of these consumer buying habits and drive incremental sales,” Shuman said.

A bright future for sweets

Looking ahead, Bland Farms is optimistic, as the demand for year-round sweet onion programs continues to grow, Bland said.

When it comes to packaging, Bland Farms is expecting a similar mix in its fall sweet deals. The company offers retailers a healthy mix of bins, secondary display units for bagged and bulk sweet onions, 40 lb boxes, and premium consumer bags ranging from 2 to 10 lbs.

There are many ways to make sweet onions grab consumers’ attention at retail, Bland said.

For instance, Bland Farms uses high-graphic packaging, and the company emphasizes the use of point-of-sale material for its retailer partners.

“Signage for our Premium Sweet Onions at the retail level is very important,” Bland said. “We also have cross-merchandising opportunities with our Vidalia Brands items like our Sweet Onion Petals, Blossom Sauce, and Batter Mix.”

Bland Farms recommends putting its 40 lb display bins in different areas of the stores to help drive sales. For example, a retailer could put its sweet onions by the meat department for consumers that are preparing for their weekend cookout or tailgating, he said.

Shippers gear up for fall cause marketing campaigns

This fall, both Reidsville, Ga.-based Shuman Farms and Glennville, Ga.-based Bland Farms will participate in cause marketing bag promotions.

In October, the company will pack its RealSweet brand onions in pink ribbon bags in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and also offer retailers special display bins for an incremental sales opportunity.

“We know that many people’s lives are impacted by breast cancer and it is our privilege to be able to do our part, raise awareness, and provide a donation to further research that will hopefully lead to a cure,” said John Shuman, Shuman Farms’ president.

The company has also created instore signage that highlights the cancer-fighting antioxidants found in sweet onions for stores to use on their displays.

Bland Farms, meanwhile, has partnered with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation since 2010, said Troy Bland, the company’s CEO.

“This October, we will have multiple offerings of pink packaging and PLU’s available to raise awareness through merchandising,” he said.

Following its Breast Cancer Awareness promotion, in November and December Shuman Farms will swap out RealSweets packaging for Feeding America-branded bags to highlight that charity and its commitment to reducing hunger.

Also as part of the promotion, Shuman Farms will donate 100,000 meals to help families in need. The company also has instore signage and a digital toolkit with social media graphics for retailers to use to promote the program.

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