The Greeley, Colo.-based National Onion Association is promoting the use of onions by reaching out to consumers through new social media programs and by reaching them indirectly by focusing on the foodservice category, said Kim Reddin, director of public and industry relations.

The association achieved several placements in foodservice-oriented publications last year and continues to have an especially strong foodservice publicity program this year, Reddin said.

Last year, the onion category received 26 placements in commercial and noncommercial foodservice publications, she said.

Features in relatively small but specialized publications actually can reach four to five times as many end users as articles in general circulation magazines, she said.

That’s because chefs and foodservice operators who look at specialized publications can affect diets of thousands of people in schools, restaurants or other institutions.

The staff continues to expend a lot of time and energy looking for recipes and images from chefs from fine-dining restaurants to casual-eating establishments, she said.

This year, the National Onion Association teamed with master chef Edward Leonard, head chef at Westchester Country Club in Rye, N.Y., to develop 12 new recipes and images ranging from appetizers to main dishes and side dishes, Reddin said.

The association also is conducting customized menu research to see how chefs and foodservice operators are using onions at all levels — from fine-dining to quick-serve restaurants.

“We’re looking for trends and developing leads on new and interesting ways onions are used on menus,” she said.

The association also tries to reach chefs and potential chefs by working with culinary schools, post-secondary and secondary educational institutions and providing them with educational materials describing how to properly cut and handle onions and to help students learn about the various colors and types of onions and when they’re in season, Reddin said.

Reddin also plans to attend Produce Marketing Association’s annual Foodservice Conference and Exposition starting July 30 in Monterey, Calif.

On the consumer side, the association sent out several news releases and already received coverage including recipes and photographs in the April issue of O: The Oprah Magazine, just in time for the spring onions season kickoff.

Since major publications generally prefer exclusive recipes, the association sent boxes of onions to magazine test kitchens to encourage food staffs to create their own recipes using onions.

The association provided background information and onion facts to help food writers round out their stories.

O magazine featured an onion tart with hand-folded pastry with a filling of caramelized onions, rosemary bacon and Camembert cheese.

Cooking Light magazine ran a feature highlighting 10 things consumers need to know about onions, Reddin said.

The association also sent out a Spanish language news release for Hispanic publications.

Finally, the National Onion Association has climbed aboard the social media bandwagon by setting up a Twitter account and launching a blog.

Consumers can read the Onionista blog on the associations’ Web site  and get Twitter updates.

“We hope onion lovers will come together and follow our weekly blog,” Reddin said.

The association sends out tweets about current onion news and items of interest two to three times a week, she said.