Retailers and consumers can look forward to ample supplies of sweet onions from Georgia, Texas and Washington.
In early May, the Vidalia onion crop looked good and was producing a good volume, said Delbert Bland, president, chief executive officer and owner of Bland Farms LLC, Glennville, Ga.
“It’s such good quality that we’re putting onions into storage,” Bland said.
Bland Farms’ Vidalia season started on April 8, which is earlier than usual, Bland said. An early start in Vidalia is good for grower-shippers.
“Usually with Vidalias, any early-start business is extra business,” Bland said.
In early May, demand was good, but prices were low — about $12-14, Bland said. On May 9, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices for 40-pound cartons of U.S. No. 1 Vidalia onions were $8 for mediums and $10 for jumbos. Demand was moderate.
For comparison, in late April 2010, Vidalia prices were at $32-34 for U.S. No. 1 40-pound cartons of jumbos, according to the USDA.
Barry Rogers, chief executive officer and president of Sweet Onion Trading Co., Melbourne, Fla., said prices are lower this year because volumes are greater. The company expects to ship primarily Vidalia sweet onions through June.
Matt Curry, president of Curry & Co. Inc., Brooks, Ore., said he expects to ship 10% to 15% more Vidalia onions this season compared with last year. Pack-out rates are projected to be higher, and there was an increase in acreage, he said. Curry & Co.’s Vidalia onions are marketed as Vidalia Sweetheart Onions.
Shippers hope demand will increase for the Memorial Day holiday. Mark Bassetti, vice president of customer development for Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc., Wellington, Fla., a subsidiary of A. Duda & Sons Inc., Oviedo, Fla., said Memorial Day Vidalia ads are in place, and he expects good demand and good quality onions for the period.
“We will see great repeat business beyond that,” Bassetti said.
In late June, July and August, shippers will pull Vidalias from storage, he said.
Bland Farms expects to pack about 2 million 40-pound cartons of Vidalia onions from its own acreage and from other growers’ crops. He said he expects Vidalia supplies to last into September. Last year, Vidalia onions were finished by about mid-August. In some years, supplies have lasted past Thanksgiving, while in other years, they were gone by early July.
Although Vidalias are a specialty crop, they affect the whole onion market, said Derrell Kelso Jr., owner and president of Onions Etc., Stockton, Calif. Vidalias are packed in various consumer packs and sold loose, and there’s only so much shelf space available.
Edinburg, Texas-based Frontera Produce Ltd.’s Texas Winter Garden deal got started May 6, and its Rio Grande Valley production was expected to wrap up in mid-May.
Despite an extended period of atypically cold temperatures earlier this year that caused some damage, David DeBerry, director of category management, said he expects a good quality crop from Winter Garden.
“It’s a beautiful, healthy crop,” DeBerry said in early May.
Effects of the cold are likely to be seen in reduced volume at the front end of Frontera’s Winter Garden deal, DeBerry said. Production is expected to be back to normal by late May or early June.
Kelso said that although the Pacific Northwest winter deal with “unbelievably high prices” was good for shippers, the lack of a supply gap in the transition from the Pacific Northwest to Texas this year contributed to a depressed onion market in late April. Northwest supplies didn’t sell fast enough because some grower-shippers held onions in storage to try to take advantage of higher prices.
After Texas entered, the market was so low that some growers there abandoned fields of onions, Kelso said. He said he expected onion prices might rise in early June.
On May 9, the USDA reported that prices for 50-pound sacks of yellow grano variety onions shipping from the Winter Garden district were at $6 for jumbos and $7-8 for mediums. Demand was fairly good.
Curry said he expects Curry & Co. to start its Walla Walla sweet onion season in about late May. The Pacific Northwest’s weather was improving in early May, following a cool spring, he said.
Curry & Co. expects to ship 10% to 15% more from this region as compared to last season because of increased acreage and predicted higher pack-out rates.
Curry & Co.’s Walla Walla onions are packed by River Point Farms, Hermiston, Ore., and marketed as Walla Walla Double Sweets.
Both organic and conventional onion sales are up this year for grower-shipper Peri & Sons Farms Inc., Yerington, Nev., said Teri Gibson, marketing and customer relations manager.
“Organic has been really strong for us despite the economy and people thinking that organic’s added expense would hamper it,” Gibson said.
She said media and consumer interest in food safety and in healthful foods is good for organic sales.
“Produce is an area where buying organic is a good investment,” Gibson said.
Pat Coan, president of Brings Co. Inc., a division of H. Brooks & Co., New Brighton, Minn., said organic onions are a steadily growing part of her business as a repacker. Brings ships onions, including sweet onions, year-round. It has a year-round organic program of yellow and red onions. It also repacks organic white onions.
Brings Co. has repacked organic onions for only a few years, but volume increased 250% in 2010 as compared to 2009, Coan said. This year’s organic sales aren’t booming like last year’s, though.
“I think people are watching their spending dollars quite a bit,” Coan said.
Bland Farms markets organic onions from about 450 acres, Bland said. Demand for organic onions remains steady, he said.
DeBerry said Frontera doesn’t market organic onions. It occasionally surveys its customers to determine interest, and there hasn’t been enough demand for it to add organics yet. DeBerry said it’s possible for the company to add them with just one season’s notice, if demand called for it.