Texas onion grower-shippers who are concerned about a depressed, oversaturated market say they’re counting on retailers to promote their onions aggressively when the deal ramps up in early March.
The best way to do that, growers and shippers say, is to price the product aggressively.
"All they need to do is lower their price," said Tommy Whitlock, sales agent for Progreso Produce LLC in Boerne, Texas. "Right now, onions are 89 cents a pound. We’re settling for probably 5 cents a pound, so they’re definitely not helping out the farmer."
Retailers should recognize that consumers are likely to pick up extra onions when the product carries a compelling price, said J Allen Carnes, president of Winter Garden Produce in Uvalde, Texas.
"It’s all about price and getting it down there where it’s really cost-effective.
People really see it’s a cheap item that can go a long way to help them feed their family," Carnes said.
"Unfortunately, I think you’re seeing less and less of that at retail, as they find their price points where it provides profit. They don’t move much off of that."
Retailers who devote a lot of space to Texas onions will move product, said Rich Pazderski, sales director with Glennville, Ga.-based Bland Farms LLC, which grows sweet onions near Raymondville, Texas.
"I always say large retail displays are effective," Pazderski said.
There have been signs that retailers will be aggressive about moving Texas onions this year, said Don Ed Holmes, owner of Weslaco, Texas-based The Onion House.
"One of the encouraging signs we’ve got right now, as I understand, there are several of the big national chains running specials on onions — 5 pounds for $2," he said. "They start running a bulk promotion like that, it really does help the industry to start moving that excess supply out. You look at prices of some other staples, fruits and vegetables are a real value."
Five-pound bags seem to get the most consumer attention, Holmes said.
"On a price-per-pound basis, it is the best value, but we sell a lot of 3-pound bags too," he said.
Shippers work with retail customers to keep the best balance between price and returns, said David DeBerry, onion category director with Edinburg, Texas-based Crescent Fruit & Vegetable LLC, a stand-alone company that Edinburg-based Frontera Produce Ltd. recently spun off.
"We do a lot of retail business, and everybody who works in this office does a tremendous amount of retail business," DeBerry said. "We hit the ground running with those guys, and there’s no looking back."