(May 10) Sweet onions and mangoes are two commodities that are ripe for promoting at this time of year. Sweet onions are a welcome switch from the storage onions available during winter, and mangoes are expanding out of the ethnic category to become a popular sweet treat in supermarkets everywhere.

ON THE SWEET SIDE

Per capita onion consumption increased from 12.2 pounds in 1983 to almost 18 pounds in 2003, says Tanya Fell, director of public and industry relations for the National Onion Association, Greeley, Colo.

To keep this trend going, promote the many varieties of sweet onions, especially in spring and summer, when the new sweet onion crops are in production.

Fresh Vidalia onions ship from the end of April or early May through mid-July, says Tina Wheeler, executive director of the Vidalia Onion Committee, Vidalia, Ga. They are available out of storage as late as December.

Walla Walla sweet onions from Walla Walla, Wash., are available from around June 10 to mid-September.

Although the Texas 1015 is a yellow, spring onion, the term has come to be synonymous with a family of sweet onions grown in Texas from March 1 to early June, says Lucy Garcia, public relations coordinator for Via Texas Marketing, Mission.

Granex sweet onions are available in several pack sizes from April through August from Harris Fresh LLC, Coalinga, Calif., which started shipping them last year, says Doug Stanley, general manager.

Grown in volcanic soil in Hawaii, Maui sweet onions are a yellow, Granex-type hybrid that originated in Texas, according to the Web site, www.sweetonionsource.com, which lists their availability from mid-February to late November.

John Battle, owner of Battle Produce Exchange, Traverse City, Mich., the exclusive sales agent for OSO Sweet onions, says the company offers a promotion for OSO Sweets that features print, television and radio advertising, complete with a catchy jingle. OSO Sweets are grown in Chile from January until March and are packed in wooden 40-pound crates.

No matter which sweet onion variety you carry, sweet onion suppliers say the category carries a high profit margin. Retailers make $26.60 per carton of OSO Sweet onions, and 50-case displays are not uncommon, says distributor Bob Corey, chief executive officer and sales manager of Corey Bros. Inc., Charleston, W.Va.

Vidalia, Peruvian and Washington state sweet onions are some of the varieties sold at Hiller’s Markets, a group of six stores based in Southfield, Mich., says Fabrizio Casini, director of produce and floral operations. Vidalias are the stores’ most popular variety, Casini says, most likely because of their taste and consumers’ familiarity with them.

Hiller’s uses 20- to 25-foot tables with two end caps to merchandise all varieties of onions. The stores sometimes feature floor displays of up to 150 boxes when varieties like Vidalias and OSO Sweets are on sale for 69 cents a pound compared to the regular price of 99 cents a pound. Casini says he doesn’t like to price onions for more than $1 a pound.

The sweet onion varieties carried at Harps Food Stores Inc., Springdale, Ark., vary by season, says Dennis Baker, director of produce for the 46-store chain. But stores typically carry at least two sweet varieties among their seven or eight onion offerings and pack sizes.

Baker buys Idaho and Eastern Oregon sweet onions and 1015s, among others, but he says Vidalias are his customers’ favorite. When Vidalias and 1015s are available, he usually promotes at least one of them in the ad each month. Baker says onions account for 4.5% of his department sales with Vidalias outselling others by 20% to 25%.

The stores’ displays typically consist of two Euro tables with one side devoted to bulk sweet onions and the other side devoted to other onion varieties — both bagged and bulk. Most Harps consumers prefer to buy onions in bulk, and 3-pound bags are more popular than 5-pounders.

Include point-of-purchase materials in your sweet onion displays to educate shoppers about their sweet taste. Battle Produce’s OSO Sweets contain a POP cared every fourth box. Customized OSO Sweet color banners measuring 8 inches high by 3 feet long also are available, says Rodger Helwig, marketing communications director for Rodger Helwig Communications, San Francisco.

The Vidalia Onion Committee and the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee, Walla Walla, offer posters and recipe cards. Or use the retail information, merchandising tips, buyer’s guide and downloadable photos that are available from Via Texas Marketing’s Web site, www.via-texas.com.

OPPORTUNITY IN WAITING

Mango shippers believe they — and you — could be sitting on a gold mine.

Although mangoes are the most consumed fruit in the world, they rank only 16th in the United States. Chris Ciruli, partner in Ciruli Bros., Nogales, Ariz., estimates that 70% of the U.S. market is untapped. Help spreading the word about mangoes may soon be on the way. A mango promotion board could be running by October, Ciruli says. A steering committee already has set up a mango promotion in conjunction with a 5 a Day program in July.

Many ethnic supermarkets already take advantage of the mango’s appeal by displaying dozens of boxes at a time on the produce floor. Consumers often buy them by the box, which contains 10 to 16 pieces.

All told, there are dozens of varieties of mangoes available worldwide, but only five of the them are big sellers in the United States. The Tommy Atkins is the most popular variety among retailers because it looks the nicest, shippers say, but it’s also the most fibrous. The most flavorful is the Keitt variety, says Jan Garrett, director of marketing for Fresh Directions International, Ventura, Calif. But she says it never loses its green color, which leads consumers to believe it isn’t ripe.

Another variety is the Ataulfo, or Honey Manila, which is a longer mango that ripens to a yellow color. Red varieties include the Haden, a less fibrous mango, and the Kent, which is gaining acceptance because it is sweet, has little fiber and eats smoothly, says Larry Nienkerk, general manager and partner in Splendid Products LLC, Burlingame, Calif.

Mangoes are available year-round from several countries, but the peak of the season generally falls from February to September, when product is imported from Mexico.

The Tommy Atkins variety is the most popular mango sold at Harps, Baker says, and it’s not just an ethnic commodity.

“More and more people are trying them and liking them,” he says.

Part of the reason for the fruit’s success at Harps may be because it’s sampled about once a month and featured on ad two or three times over a three-month period. Sales increase 15% to 20% when consumers can taste a sliver of mango for themselves, Baker says.

Mangoes are merchandised on Euro tables, often on an end cap, with other tropical items like bananas, papayas, coconuts and kiwifruit. Prices range from 3 for $1 when supplies are plentiful to 69 cents or 79 cents each when availability is limited. Baker says it’s not unusual to see them advertised at Harps at 2 for $1.

The Tommy Atkins variety also is the most popular mango at Hiller’s, Casini says. Each Hiller’s store displays them in a tropical fruit section with items like pineapple and starfruit and sells about 25 to 30 cases of mangoes a week, which Casini buys at the Detroit Produce Terminal. Summer is the best time for mangoes, he says, when shoppers seek a refreshing piece of tropical fruit.