Texas onion growers and shippers say they appreciate their position in the domestic retail market: Theyâre first up.
When Texas onions hit retail shelves, itâs generally about a month ahead of the Vidalia sweet onions, so Texans say they work hard to claim a key share of the market during that window.
âOur focus is on quality and service,â said Mike Martin, president of Rio Queen Citrus Inc., Mission, Texas. âWe canât always be perfect, but we work very hard to pack the premier quality fresh onion available in our area.â
Texas onions deliver advantages to retail customers, said David DeBerry, president of Edinburg, Texas-based David K DeBerry Inc.
âSweet onions donât store as long or as well as onions with lower sugar contents. Thatâs an advantage to us. When we come in, weâre at the tail end of the South American stuff,â he said.
âWe have a window weâve enjoyed for a long time. We have relationships with retailers that weâve cultivated over the years.â
Perhaps the most important consideration, as far as retail customers, is concerned, though, is price, DeBerry said.
âRetailers are telling us theyâre more interested in how we can keep costs down rather than what can you do that makes it looks snappier packaging but costs more,â he said.
âThereâs some really new labeling and packaging options with nice high-graphic stuff, but the message from retail is donât price yourself out of the market in this environment.â
It also helps if Texas onions can stand out from competitors, said Tracy Fowler, general manager of the potato and onion departments for L&M Cos. Inc., Raleigh, N.C., which ships Texas onions.
âYou need to ship them during the first month before the April 15 timeframe of Georgia,â he said. âYouâre competing for shelf space, and Texas still has a strong name.â
Year-round promotions are also important for setting up the Texas season, said Curtis DeBerry, owner of Progreso Produce, which has offices in Pharr and Boerne.
âThatâs a big part of whatâs working now, compared to 15 years ago, when you just had seasonal sweets,â he said. âWeâre speaking with the same people very day. We understand their business, trends and consumers better, too. Really, thatâs what we do â give them a product the end user is going to enjoy and get them back in to buy more.â
Itâs important to look for any edges against tough competition, said Don Ed Holmes, owner of the Weslaco-based Onion House.
âWe think we have a far superior product with far superior shelf life,â he said. âAll the selective breeding over the last 10 years, if your growing practices are good, youâre going to have a really sweet onion. It comes down to shelf life, as far as what a retailer is looking for.â
Thereâs no one-size-fits-all promotional effort for Texas onions, said John McClung, manager of the South Texas Onion Committee, Mission.
âAt this point, the sheds are doing their own promotions,â he said. âThere is not a single organized promotion for Texas onions. There have been in years past. But for the moment, most believe they can do their own marketing and promotion adequately. The demand is good enough that we get a lot of pull-through, anyway.â