Strong spring and summer demand for sweet onions will likely continue well into the fall, thanks in large part to tight supplies early in the Peruvian deal, importers said.
“The next six to eight weeks we’ll be a bit short,” said Ira Greenstein, owner of Mount Kisco, N.Y.-based Direct Source Marketing.
“The domestic market in Peru, Chile and Colombia is very active.”
Medium-sized sweets from Peru are in such demand in South America, buyers line up to pay cash for them, Greenstein said.
As a result, growers are harvesting onions to meet domestic and regional demand before they can size up and get shipped to the U.S. as jumbos or colossals, Greenstein said.
“Buyers are stepping in and paying a lot of money for medium onions,” he said. “It’s very rare to see such high demand (in South America) this late into the season.”
In the U.S., that should translate into strong markets for the foreseeable future, Greenstein said.
“We’ve seen a very strong early market, and we expect strong f.o.b.s well into October,” he said.
Prices on Peruvians opened in the $28 range — about where Vidalias were at the end of their season — and Greenstein expected them to remain in the $24-28 range until domestic demand in South America returns more to normal and export volumes increase, most likely in November.
Greenstein characterized that expected September/October market as a win-win-win for growers, importers and U.S. retailers.
Prices are high enough for growers and importers to make money, but still reasonable enough for retailers to sell Peruvian sweets for as low as 99 cents a pound.
Markets will likely soften later in the fall, but not too much, and then they’ll likely come right back up again, said Barry Rogers, president of Melbourne, Fla.-based Sweet Onion Trading Co.
“I think you’ll see a belly in October, but not as low as people anticipated — maybe into the high teens,” Rogers said.
“Then they’ll go back up.”
Supplies for Peruvian onions sold by Greencastle, Pa.-based Keystone Fruit Marketing will likely peak in November, with promotional pricing available upon request, said Marty Kamer, partner and vice president.
“Demand for premium quality flat onions from Peru has been great so far,” Kamer said.
“Consumers have a tremendous amount of confidence that they are getting a ‘true sweet onion’ when they the granex shape from Peru.”
Because of higher demand, Reidsville, Ga.-based Shuman Produce Inc. expects to ship more Peruvian sweets than last year, said Brandon Parker, the company’s sales manager.
Volumes could reach 475,000 cartons, he said. Shuman Produce is receiving greater interest in Peruvians from its existing customers, as well as attracting new ones, Parker said.
More and more retailers and consumers, particularly on the East Coast, are turning to the Peruvian granex as the preferred sweet onion in fall and winter, he said.
And with the sluggish economy, more people eating at home also plays into the hands of retail-heavy shippers like Shuman Produce.
“We’re very excited about the growth in the category for us,” Parker said.
Register, Ga.-based Four Corners Farms expects to increase its Peruvian deal this year from about 155 to about 195 loads, but so far, the company has had no trouble moving that extra product, and markets have remained strong, said Rawls Neville, the company’s operations manager.
That’s because an anticipated early end to the Vidalia season came to pass, increasing the demand for early imports, Neville said.
“Everything so far has sold out immediately,” he said. “(Late season) Vidalias were selling for $28, and Peru started out very similar.”
Markets would likely soften a bit as volumes increased in September, with prices possibly dropping $2 per box, he said.
Strong demand for domestic product at the beginning of September boded well for the Peruvian deal, which was running about two weeks late for Glennville, Ga.-based Bland Farms LLC, said Michael Hively, the company’s chief financial officer and general manager.
“There’s a real good market out of New York right now,” Hively said.