(Oct. 1) Onions are an ideal staple for consumers because of their pungent flavor. In order to encourage consumers to cook in their home, onion commissions encourage retailers to promote recipe ideas.

Candi Fitch, marketing director for the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee, Parma, Idaho, says introducing consumers to recipes will encourage new ways to prepare onions and increase impulse buying.Check the company’s Web site, www.IEOonions.com, for recipes for appetizers, soups, salads, breads, accents and side dishes and main courses.

Derrell Kelso Jr., owner of Onions Etc. Inc., Stockton, Calif., is promoting the idea of cooking at home to the consumer by featuring recipes on the company’s bagged onions. Onions Etc. uses sensory perception marketing by displaying mouth-watering food shots of prepared foods on the front and back of its bagged onions to promote impulse purchases.

“Onions are used in 80 to 95% of recipes. This allows us to aid the retailer in promoting a ton of his products via food shots and recipes on our bags,” Kelso says.

Kelso came up with this idea by taking a close look at the fast-food industry. He says this year the fast-food industry will do $110 billion in sales and is retailers’ biggest competitor.

Consumers can log on the Onions Etc. Web site, www.homegrowngoodness.com, to get free recipes and share their own recipes. Kelso says the company’s objective — as well as its slogan — is to sell the consumer on the idea that “eating at home is the healthy decision.”

“At this present time we are beginning a process of interviewing a variety of chefs that will be on our staff to develop recipes that will correlate with commodities our retailers want to cross-merchandise with,” Kelso says.

Larry Dockins, produce manager for single store Harvest Market, Fort Bragg, Calif., says he sells more onions in the summer because of outdoor activities. Consumers like to use onions in barbecue meals and for salsas. He says the store provides recipes for salsa and guacamole dishes that use onions.

Bob Lantz, produce manager for the Fairway, Kan., Hen House, one of 15 stores, agrees summer is a big time of year for onions and the use of recipes. In the past he has provided recipes with red Bermuda and Vidalia onions for salsa, soups and other dishes.

Johnny Wong, produce manager for Jumbo Markets, one of three stores in Sacramento, Calif., supplies recipes with onions only when there are sales and doesn’t see much of an increase in sales when he does provide them. Some of the recipes are for casserole, stir fry and baked dishes.

Kathy Fry, marketing director for the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee, Walla Walla, Wash., says she typically sees younger women in their 20s and 30s collecting recipes.

The committee provides a promotional packet that includes a folded arrangement of 10 recipes. The accordion-style brochure features recipes from famous chefs and restaurants in the Pacific Northwest and includes consumer storage tips.

The Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee shares recipes to consumers on its Web site, www.sweetonions.org.Fry says recipes include the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Pizza, Walla Walla Sweet Minted Onions, Walla Walla Sweet Onion Flower, Walla Walla Sweet Onion and Cherry Compote, Grilled and Roasted Walla Walla Sweet Onions with Pine Nut Butter, Pasta with Fresh Walla Walla Sweet Vegetable Sauce, and her favorite summer staple, the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Garden Salad.

“In a normal season, among local growers, packers and this office, we go through about 5,000 recipe folders,” Fry says.

Mark Breimeister, president of AAA Produce Exchange Inc., Sylvan Lake, Mich., agrees that recipes drive consumers to buy and use onions. He says that suggestion is a powerful tool.

“Many times people are stuck in a rut of eating the same menu week after week, and I believe that making suggestions of quick, easy recipes can break people out of the rut,” Breimeister says.

AAA Produce Exchange offers recipes for a number of quick, easy dishes for its Amerisweet onion, which is available in autumn. These recipes include Italian Torte, Fall Classic Sweet Onion Salad and Sweet Onion Greek Pita Pizza and others.

OFFERING ONIONS

Finding the right setting in the produce department for onions is important.

Dockins of Harvest Market carries seven or eight varieties of onions, including yellow, red, white, boiling and pearl. His specialty onions, when in season, are the Vidalia, Walla Walla and Maui varieties. Harvest Market offers onions in bulk, while specialty onions are displayed in 1-pound net bags.

Dockins says the store’s onions are positioned in a farmers market display using wooden bins, each 6-cubic feet. When not on special, yellow onions are 35 cents per pound, red are 59 cents per pound and white are 69 cents per pound. On sale, onions go for 25 cents per pound, but he says the price fluctuates for specialty onions.

Breimeister of AAA Produce Exchange Inc. says sweet onions should be offered in bulk display. He displays jumbo-sized product and cooking onions in 3-pound bags.

“Since onions are a volume item, I believe that it is logical to place the onions near the potatoes,” Breimeister says.

Fry of the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee says onions should be placed near other low-humidity produce items, like potatoes and winter squash. She says that packaged onions are the nicest because bulk usually is messy. She finds that most bulk displays are not inviting.

The committee is offering wooden point-of-purchase display crates this year to highlight Walla Walla as a gourmet or specialty onion.The dimensions of the box are about 2- by 1- by 1-foot and feature both the Walla Walla Sweet Onion logo and the seal burned into the wood.

Bobby Maner, produce manager for single store Elgin IGA, Elgin, S.C., has a variety of onions that he displays loose and bagged. He carries green, red, yellow, white and sweet onions. He says the store’s top seller is the yellow onion. He sells them for 99 cents per pound. He displays loose onions in big baskets, 50 pounds at a time, which he adds to every other day. He also shelves 3-pound bags and overwrapped trays of onions.

Maner says onions make up about 3% to 4% of his produce sales. Onion sales are strong year-round, but he says they are especially a strong commodity in the summer and spring because of the salads and grilling meals.

Hen House’s Lantz uses a silver pull-out drawer for onions. His strategy for point-of-sale is placing onions in different parts of the store like in the meat department or in picnic displays with potato salad. Onions are priced 99 cents per pound.

Jumbo Markets’ Wong places a variety of onions on tables in bulk and 3-pound bags. He carries red, white, yellow, Walla Walla, Vidalia and small pearl onions. The yellow onions are the only ones that are offered in bags as well as bulk. Yellow onions are priced at 39 cents per pound or $1.29 for a 3-pound bag. Red onions are 79 cents per pound and white onions sell for 69 cents per pound.

When dealing with price strategies for onions, Breimeister says sweet onions should command a premium over cooking onions. He says volume will move on ad at 99 cents per pound.

Fry generally likes to see the prices start in a normal to higher range, and then as the season runs down, prices will usually fall off.
GENERATING IMPULSE SALES

Because onions are an essential ingredient to many cuisine’s, cross-merchandising is essential.

Kelso of Onions Etc. says that meat, potatoes and onions promoted together in the meat department portray a quick and healthy meal solution. “In the very near future we will be able to place coupons on our bags that correlate with our food shots and a consumer will be able to get, for example, 50 cents off a 5-pound purchase of New York (strip steaks) when you purchase a 5-pound bag of Yellow Cooking Onions,” Kelso says.

Dockins says one of the most successful promotions he’s done with onions was during Cinco de Mayo and Super Bowl Sunday. He merchandised onions with salsas, tomatoes and avocados.

When onions are on special, Dockins uses large 8½-by 12-inch sign. When they are not on sale, signs are only 3½-by 5-inches. With a bigger sign he sees more people drawn to the onions because of their visibility.

Maner cross-merchandises onions with potatoes or places them with lettuce and tomatoes to encourage salad ideas. He says he uses shelf tags for point-of-sale material and signs that are 8- by 11-inches when he features onions in ads. He notices that there is an increase in sales especially when onions are on sale — it triples the movement.

Wong merchandises onions with batter mix for fried onions. He says he doesn’t use too much POS material unless the onions are on sale. When onions are on sale he’ll build a large display with items that go with it and use fliers and advertisements.

“They (consumers) need to be pushed in the right direction and right now is the right time for retailers and their suppliers to partner together and begin the slow and awesome task of reversing our societies eating habits,” Kelso says.