Texas onion growers and shippers say they appreciate their position in the domestic retail market: They’re first up.

When Texas onions hit retail shelves, it’s 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.

“Our focus is on quality and service,” said Mike Martin, president of Rio Queen Citrus Inc., Mission, Texas. “We can’t always be perfect, but we work very hard to pack the premier quality fresh onion available in our area.”

Texas onions deliver advantages to retail customers, said David DeBerry, president of Edinburg, Texas-based David K DeBerry Inc.

“Sweet onions don’t store as long or as well as onions with lower sugar contents. That’s an advantage to us. When we come in, we’re at the tail end of the South American stuff,” he said.

“We have a window we’ve enjoyed for a long time. We have relationships with retailers that we’ve cultivated over the years.”

Perhaps the most important consideration, as far as retail customers, is concerned, though, is price, DeBerry said.

“Retailers are telling us they’re more interested in how we can keep costs down rather than what can you do that makes it looks snappier packaging but costs more,” he said.

“There’s some really new labeling and packaging options with nice high-graphic stuff, but the message from retail is don’t price yourself out of the market in this environment.”

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.

“You need to ship them during the first month before the April 15 timeframe of Georgia,” he said. “You’re competing for shelf space, and Texas still has a strong name.”

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.

“That’s a big part of what’s working now, compared to 15 years ago, when you just had seasonal sweets,” he said. “We’re speaking with the same people very day. We understand their business, trends and consumers better, too. Really, that’s what we do — give them a product the end user is going to enjoy and get them back in to buy more.”

It’s important to look for any edges against tough competition, said Don Ed Holmes, owner of the Weslaco-based Onion House.

“We think we have a far superior product with far superior shelf life,” he said. “All the selective breeding over the last 10 years, if your growing practices are good, you’re going to have a really sweet onion. It comes down to shelf life, as far as what a retailer is looking for.”

There’s no one-size-fits-all promotional effort for Texas onions, said John McClung, manager of the South Texas Onion Committee, Mission.

“At this point, the sheds are doing their own promotions,” he said. “There 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.”

Texas sweet onion shippers get first crack at the market