The most effective marketing platform for packaged produce is not a billboard, the airwaves or the Internet, according to Derrell Kelso.

It’s the user’s kitchen counter, said Kelso, chief executive officer of Stockton, Calif.-based Onions Etc.

Indeed, he said, packaging plays a central, indispensable role in promoting the company’s onions, Kelso said.

The company has a package concept it calls the Kitchen Counter Merchandiser.

It’s a natural marketing tool, Kelso said.

“I don’t know if retailers realize it, but the kitchen counter is the Holy Grail of advertising real estate,” he said.

Companies pay untold millions for coveted ad positions in print, broadcast and Web-based media and, in doing so, overlook the obvious opportunity right under a cook’s nose, Kelso said.

“There’s never been a whole big utilization of this concept when it comes to retailers,” Kelso said.

Now, Onions Etc. is going in that direction, Kelso said.

“The best place I believe to advertise is people’s kitchens, so Kitchen Counter Merchandiser markets MEAH (meals eaten at home) in the kitchen.”

There’s no better marketing platform for onions, which are sliced, diced and blended into countless dishes, Kelso said.

“Our packaging is engineered for that,” he said.

Retailers can increase sales through a number of means, including compelling prices that bring in new customers, Kelso said.

A second tool is to emphasis MEAH, Kelso said.

“The consumer is eating six meals a day at home, for two people, and you increase that by one or two, you’ll increase their consumption by 18%-22%,” Kelso said.

Packaging can help fuel that increase, he added.

“We put high-graphic photos of prepared meals with onions, since it’ an ingredient and it gives them ideas for preparation,” he said.

The package also promotes onions’ nutritional benefits, which further enhances the product’s appeal, Kelso said.

It also clears up confusion consumers may have about onions, he said.

“You’ve got as many as 10 SKUs for onions in the produce aisle, and when I talk to consumers who say they like the sweet ones, I’ll say, ‘Which one is that?’” Kelso said.

Clear, informative packaging clears up such misconceptions, so consumers know precisely what variety of onions they are purchasing, he said.

“We also put a shopping list on the back that increases incremental sales, which is an item that was not originally on their shopping list,” Kelso said.

The concept works, he said, adding that his company’s onions reach about 1,800 stores.

Other produce shippers point to quick-response codes on packaging as another easy way to provide a wealth of product information to the consumer.

“Mobile sites are easy and we put QR codes on a lot of our boxes, but I think that on special products it really makes sense,” he said.

Rich Thoma, vice president of sales and marketing with New Kensington, Pa.-based Yerecic Label, said much of the produce industry is going in that direction.

“There’s a big move toward that,” he said.

Thoma agreed with Kelso that the focus is on interacting with consumers.

“I don’t think the consumer base is quite there to make the QR code universally useful, but for those that use that technology on smart phones, that’s a quick and easy way to get that information available to the consumer,” he said.