Nobody has to belong to the National Onion Association, but hundreds of grower-shippers across the U.S. do anyway.

The Greeley, Colo.-based association says it knows why: It aggressively promotes the commodity.

“We have about 500 company members, from maybe the 40-acre grower to a corporation that has 500 employees,” said Wayne Mininger, a former grower who has headed up the association as executive vice president for 25 years.

The association speaks as an industry voice on issues like food safety, but it also offers information ranging from crop trends and statistics to recipes.

There’s also plenty of guidance available, Mininger said.

“The upside now is the producers, shippers and marketers have listened to and developed new niches,” he said.

The market has evolved, and growers, shippers and marketers have to be a in step with the changes, Mininger said.

“Onions are not just found in the simple one, two or three ways you used to find in the retail stores,” he said.

Marketing is only one of numerous functions the association fills, Mininger said.

“We’re voluntary, so, in that regard, we try and draw all aspects of industry for conventions and information exchange for networking,” he said.

The organization also serves an important role as a unified voice of the industry facing a range of political and regulatory issues, Mininger said.

“There are more and more of those issues,” he said, citing evolving safety regulations as one example.

The association’s marketing voice represents all dry bulb onions grown in the U.S.

“We want to see consumers and foodservice people educated so they use onions, they think onions and imagine themselves using onions in ways and means they wouldn’t have otherwise known about,” he said.

Kim Reddin, the association’s director of industry relations, said the association provides a necessary service in educating the public about how to handle and prepare onions.

“Of course, the culinary school is always hungry for information they can use for the next really great local restaurateur,” she said.

“They’re always promoting and trying to increase consumption and demand for onions in general and (doing) a good job lobbying in Washington (D.C.),” said Steve Smith, owner and president of National Onion Inc., Las Cruces, N.M.