The National Onion Association is drawing a lot of attention to onions, and grower-shippers are building on that with their own publicity efforts.


“The National Onion Association … has done an excellent job of promoting onions for the last three or four years,” said Pat Coan, president of Brings Co. Inc., a division of H. Brooks & Co., New Brighton, Minn.


Coan said she appreciated that the Greeley, Colo.-based association’s success in getting publicity for onions in many major publications and on television cooking shows.


“I think that’s the single most important thing that’s really grown the sweet (onion) category,” Coan said. “The cooking shows have educated the public.”


The association has several promotional efforts under way, said Kim Reddin, director of public and industry relations .


It is partnering with the International Chili Society to sponsor its World’s Championship Chili Cook-off in Manchester, N.H., Sept. 30 through Oct. 2. The society’s home page, www.chilicookoff.com, contains the association’s logo and a link to its site. The digital media campaign promoting onions as a chili ingredient will last for a year, Reddin said.


The association also is sponsoring a contest for members of the society, called Chiliheads, to share onion-related stories. The grand prize, a portable dual-burner Coleman stove, a Dutch oven and a set of knives, will be awarded at the championship in New Hampshire.


This spring, the association is promoting onions as a restaurant side dish by developing recipes for the foodservice sector, Reddin said. Onions are often overlooked at as a vegetable that can be used as a side dish, she said. Suggestions include mixing onions into existing menu items or adding one of the association’s new recipes to the menu. The association in early May had not decided in what format it would distribute the recipes, but it plans to get them to more than 400 regional chains, Reddin said.


In March, the association attended a meeting of the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition dietetic practice group of the American Dietetic Association, Reddin said. It distributed onion-related materials in participants’ packets, and the association sponsored a speaker at the event.


Also in March, the association participated in the Retail Dietitian Conference in Napa, Calif. Reddin said she estimated that 85% of U.S. supermarket chains were represented by the dietitians she met with at the conference. The association sponsored a conference dinner, distributed materials and held roundtable discussions.


Because point-of-sales materials are expensive to produce and the association has only a moderate budget, Reddin said she sought feedback from the dietitians about what materials they needed from the association. As a result, the association is working on a new flavor, color and use chart for onions that will be available to retailers.


The association continues its online partnership with EatingWell.com. The association contributed content to an onion article on the site. That page features the association’s logo and a link to its site at http://onions-usa.org/.


The association’s website is being redesigned, Reddin said. The new site, which is scheduled to launch in mid-June, will feature a new educators’ section complete with onion-related math, science and health lessons for children in grades four through six.


In April and May, the association participated in an online progressive party, through the Kitchen Play website at www.kitchen-play.com, Reddin said. Kitchen Play connects paid food bloggers with public relations representatives, according to its site. A progressive party involves six food bloggers, each of whom is assigned a dinner course to create using an assigned ingredient. For the onion association’s party, each course had to include onions. Blog readers were then invited to try the recipes, blog about them and send links to their blogs to Kitchen Play to be entered into a contest to win one of six $100 prizes.


The progressive party was kicked off with a Twitter party or chat on April 4, Reddin said. Reddin tweets for the association as @onionista.


Peri & Sons Farms Inc., Yerington, Nev., plans to celebrate its customers this summer through its Onion Express Spring Summer Harvest Event, said Teri Gibson, marketing and customer relations manager. The event will include packages being mailed to all customers, and prize giveaways in June, July and August. An all-expenses-paid trip to tour Peri & Sons Farms is a possible prize for one lucky winner.


Peri & Sons plans an October promotion tied to breast cancer awareness, Gibson said. The company partnered with the National Breast Cancer Foundation for a small-scale promotion a few years ago. A portion of proceeds from specially marked packages of Peri & Sons Farms onions will be donated to the foundation.


Peri & Sons Farms started its Onion Obsession club last fall as a way to reach out to consumers, Gibson said. Consumers can join online at www.periandsons.com. With membership comes access to recipes and information, as well as occasional gifts. Gibson said about 550 people had signed up for the club as of late April.


Matt Curry, president of Curry & Co. Inc., Brooks, Ore., said his company’s marketing strategies for Vidalia and Walla Walla sweet onions involves good communication, consistent growers, local and regional appeal, and seasonal excitement. Vidalia and Walla Walla are just two parts of Curry & Co.’s year-round sweet onion deal.


“We need to maintain steady dialogue with our partners to keep them up to date on the season from before harvest until completion,” Curry said. “It is important that we develop the right plan with our partners to maximize sales year round.”


Curry & Co.’s Vidalia Sweetheart Onions are produced by two growers, and its Walla Walla Double Sweet Onions are produced by one grower.


“This helps us have outstanding consistency in both brands, a point we like to drive home with our partners,” Curry said. “And it creates a marketing opportunity to feature these growers.”


Curry said the company’s Vidalia and Walla Walla brands have loyal local followers and strong brand recognition, both of which can be taken advantage of through effective advertising.


Vidalia onions and Walla Walla sweets generate some excitement because they’re not available year round.


“We like to have our retail partners make sure they tell consumers to ‘Enjoy these Vidalia Sweet heart Onions while they’re available,’ or ‘It’s Walla Walla Onion Season — Enjoy now!” Curry said.