LYONS, Ga. — Retailers eagerly await the start of the Vidalia season, which is marked by a spike in sweet onion sales.

Shippers say they’re also working to keep consumption high and keep shoppers buying their sweet onions.

“Vidalias are one of the biggest movers in the produce department,” said Jamie Brannen, partner with Statesboro-based Curry & Co. of Georgia LLC and Sweet Vidalia Farms.

“For the most part, sweet onion consumption during the rest of the year is pretty steady. ’Here comes the Vidalias’ — that’s a big deal in many areas when the season starts. One of the statistics we’ve seen is that when the Vidalia comes in, the consumption of onions increases 20% overall.”

The key is keeping shoppers interested in Vidalias, said L.G. “Bo” Herndon Jr., president of L.G. Herndon Jr. Farms Inc.

“A sweet onion eats so much better than a hot onion,” he said.

“I think we’re at the top of the mountain. Everyone is trying to climb up there to us. If we continue to do a good job with good farming practices, putting our agricultural practices together and keeping our food safety practices in line, and keep everything like it should be, it should be fine. We can’t keep the wheels from turning. We always have to stay on top of things.”

Aries Haygood, chairman of the Vidalia Onion Committee and operations manager for M & T Farms, said the committee is actively targeting younger people to keep increasing onion consumption.

He said it’s one thing to educate consumers on the benefits of Vidalias in terms of their sweetness and why they should purchase them.

It’s another thing to convince them to consistently purchase and cook with them, Haygood said. He said the committee’s board spends a lot of time discussing that issue.

“How do we get the consumer to buy and cook our onion and love it so they would return and buy more several times during the season?” Haygood asked.

“By targeting the younger demographics, we feel our promotional campaigns are helping get them to eat our onions.”

John Shuman, president of Shuman Produce Inc., Reidsville, said his firm employs the West Dundee, Ill.-based Perishables Group Inc. to conduct research on sweet onion varieties that can properly position Shuman in the market.

He said research shows consumers recognize and are demanding sweet onion varieties similar to the flat-shaped granex, the type grown by Vidalia growers, particularly during the offshore deal when Peru, Chile and Mexico send sweet onions to retailers.

Shuman attributes the Vidalia industry’s expansion to seed companies releasing improved varieties.

“The popularity of the granex sweet onion variety has really grown in the past few years,” he said.

“It continues to grow and drive the growth of the onion category. Sweet onions are the category driver when it comes to the overall growth of the onion category.”

Derek Rodgers, director of sales for Sweet Onion Trading Co., Melbourne, Fla., said the availability of offshore onions helps consumption.

“It feels like there are a lot of high quality sweet onions available year-round that are very comparable to the Vidalia,” he said.

“It’s very hard to get the Vidalia name out of peoples’ heads.”

Walt Dasher, co-owner of G&R Farms, Glennville, said the sizes of packs shoppers put in their shopping carts shows the type of onions consumers prefer.

“Years ago, a 10-pound bag used to be a hot item that would sell very well,” he said.

“Retail customers tell me their customers tell them those big bags have too many onions, even though they may merchandise them at a good price.

“Consumers are shopping more often so they can by the 1-, 2-, 3- or 5-pound bags. One size bag works better for certain regions of the country and it depends on the demographics of the store.”