Over the past decade, sweet onion marketers have begun to embrace testing for sweetness and marketing them as certified sweet, in an effort to weed out pungent “hot” onions.

Now a longtime onion salesman is lobbying the U.S. Department of Agriculture for mandatory national sweetness rules.

Onion marketer pushes mandatory sweet standardsBarry Rogers, president of Melbourne, Fla.-based Sweet Onion Trading Corp., seeks to stop “onion fraud” in a campaign he calls the Global Certification Initiative. Rogers, who has sold sweet onions for more than 20 years, said he’s planning to meet with U.S. Department of Agriculture officials to inquire about establishing national regulations concerning the marketing of sweet onions.

“You can name thousands of products that have grading standards that have to do with the taste of the product,” Rogers said. “So why shouldn’t sweet onions? It has come to the point where sweet onions have an increased margin over hot onions.

“People keep wanting to get in it but they don’t want to do due-diligence on it. What they’re doing is committing fraud,” he said “By selling non- or semi-sweet onions, they’re holding back the whole category.”

Onion marketer pushes mandatory sweet standardsRogers declined to name whom he plans to meet with at USDA and the other large sweet onion grower-shippers he’s working with on the campaign, which he started in May. He said he has a tentative meeting scheduled with USDA officials who he said seem receptive to the idea. Rogers said some retailers have also requested the USDA set national standards.

Rogers said he’s visited with several large grower-shippers, and the group is trying to “put their heads together” and find a way to get some national standards going.

Sweet Onion Trading uses National Onion Labs Inc., Collins, Ga., to certify the pyruvic acid content of his onions, which is a factor that determines pungency.

David Burrell, president and chief executive officer of National Onion Labs, was on the forefront of the certification movement. He was the defendant in several lawsuits filed by Vidalia onion growers who claimed the certification devalued non-certified onions.