Onions have their place in the supermarket year-round, but produce managers say they sense a special excitement among shoppers during the late spring and early summer, when some of the most popular sweet onions arrive.
Rich Dilly, produce buyer and manager at Cosentino’s Vegetable Haven Inc., San Jose, Calif., said he looks forward to the arrival of Vidalia onions, Walla Walla sweet onions, “true Italian” sweets grown in nearby Fresno and Maui sweet onions every year, and so do his customers.
Shoppers definitely buy more onions during the summer than any other time of year, he said, so he builds an onion display that is about 3 feet deep by up to 20 feet long.
The store typically offers a half-dozen varieties, depending on what’s available at any given time.
Texas 1015s, Spanish sweet onions and various red and white varieties usually are among those he features.
Vidalia and Maui sweet onions also are among the most popular varieties produce manager Fred Quick sells at the Olsen’s Marketplace store in Ajo, Ariz.
In late April, he said he was selling about two cases of sweet onions a week but he expected to double that volume when the Vidalias arrived in May.
The store’s onion display is about 8 feet long and usually has four or five varieties, including brown, yellow, red and white. There’s also a basket of boiling onions.
Ralph Adams, president of Adams Fairacre Farms, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., said the store merchandises red, white and yellow onions loose and in 3-, 5- and 10-pound bags on a display table. He also displays tiny boilers that are especially popular for cooking, and he includes garlic, too.
The store features onions on ad only occasionally, not more than once a month, he said.
Dilly features onions in Cosentino’s ad about once a month.
He advertises one variety at a time and usually sees a sales increase of 50%. But he tends to advertise the local Italian sweets more often, since they’re only available during a short window, and because they’re so popular among local shoppers, he said.
The store creates its own signs, and Dilly said he tries to include as much health and nutrition information about produce items as he can.
“The more our customers are educated, the better off we are,” he said.
Nonetheless, he believes most consumers buy based on taste rather than nutrition value.
When produce is locally grown, he also includes that information on the signs.
“There are people who like to know where (produce) is grown,” he said.
About half the onions Olsen’s sells are Vidalias, when they’re in season, Quick said. Red onions are his slowest mover in the category.
Prices still were unsettled early this spring, but Quick said last summer, onions that the store typically sold for 99 cents a pound ran for as little as 49 cents a pound on ad.
To a degree, the price of onions determines how many Adams Fairacre Farms sells, Adams said. He expected prices to settle down this summer, after skyrocketing earlier this year because of cold, wet weather in several areas during the growing season.