To pack or not to pack in Peru, that is the question. And will that be a bag or a box? Importers’ views vary.
While the majority of Peruvian shippers pack their onions in 50-pound bags and repack them in the U.S., Ira Greenstein, owner of Mount Kisco, N.Y.-based Direct Source Marketing, has his sweet onions brought from the farm to a central facility, where they’re packed in traditional 40-pound cartons.
“Everything is packed in Peru to our specifications,” said Greenstein.
“That way we manage our food safety and traceability responsibility.”
Greenstein said packing in Peru gives Direct Source and its retail customers a price advantage because the company is saving repack costs on the east coast.
“We’ve been doing this for years, so we have the confidence we can manage the proper quality in Peru,” he said, adding that he’s still able to offer a locally bagged program.
Barry Rogers, chief executive officer of Melbourne, Fla.-based Sweet Onion Trading Co., said his company prefers shipping in mesh bags.
“If you ship in cartons, you start a timer,” Rogers said, “because once they’re packed for market, it’s extremely expensive to unpack them to make sure they’re OK.”
Even if just one onion goes bad in a 50-pound bag in four months, he said, you’ve still got to be able to take out that onion before shipping to a customer.
Rogers said South Americans growers would prefer to pack sweet onions in Peru to save money, but that assumes the sales agency is be able to move everything shipped fresh every day that week.
“We have to be able to hold it for the proper orders and the proper customers, and not be forced to sell it at any price,” he said.
Importing sweet onions in bags also saves shipping costs and keeps the product fresher, said salesman Ralph Diaz of DeBruyn Produce Co., based in Zeeland, Mich.
“We get more bags in a container, there’s more air circulation and you actually have to handle the onion, so if you find problems you can correct them,” said Diaz.
He said the company’s founder, the late Bob DeBruyn, switched to bags about nine years ago after having quality issues with cartons.
Mark Breimeister, national marketing director of Waterford, Mich.–based Saven, Inc., said his company had hoped to pack its Oso Sweets in Peru for U.S. retailers, as it does in Chile during the winter, but it has been forced to rethink its strategy.
“In our experience, the Peruvian onions don’t hold up as well,” Breimeister said, “and we want to get a second pass on the product to ensure quality.”
As well, Peru’s Oso Sweets need a little time to adjust to the temperature when they arrive in the U.S.
Some are put in the dryer to ensure they look good before packaging, he said.