Tears of joy

The desire for ethnic cuisines and bold flavors have inspired consumers to experiment with new varieties and uses for onions and garlic.

grilled-onions2Onions and garlic have been around since the dawn of time. Their historical usage in medicine and nutrition has been documented in cultures worldwide, and they are a staple in almost every cuisine. It may seem logical to expect such exhausted categories to slow down; yet, both continue to show growth.

The popularity of ethnic cuisines and bold flavors has sparked consumer experimentation with different onion varieties and unconventional preparation methods, say industry observers. Growers can vouch for this trend as consumers welcome packaging and flavor innovations, value-added convenience products and even uncommon varieties with open arms.

Take white onions, for example. Traditionally used in Mexican cuisine, white onions sales are up, especially in the Western states, due to a growing ethnic population and the influence of such cuisines nationwide, say observers. Growers recognize that consumers are open to new ideas and many have set out to educate them on onion varieties and uses.

“It is a little bit of a challenge to get typical Americans comfortable cooking with white onions,” says Teri Gibson, director of marketing and customer relations for Peri & Sons Farms. The Yerington, Nev.-based grower has been trying to educate at-home cooks by posting recipes on its Facebook page and packaging.

This is part of the motivation behind Peri & Sons Farms move toward packaged products. “Packaging offers another avenue to share recipes. Retailers do not have to keep track of information—consumers can just scan the QR code and find out who the farmer is, where the product was grown and ways they can cook it,” says Gibson.

Peri & Sons goes a step further with its new Bloomin’ Colossal Onion. The single-wrapped yellow onion has a QR code on the bag that leads to grilling instructions and recipes for dipping sauces.

Grower brands are appearing more around the produce department, including in the onion and garlic categories. Education through packaging and POS is just one of the many reasons consumers opt for brand over bulk. Consumers also feel a sense of trust and loyalty when they receive a consistent product time and time again from a single brand, say observers. Historically, consistency and quality were the only way a shipper could speak directly to consumers, says Richard Pazderski, director of business development for Utah Onions, based in Syracuse, Utah. “Rarely does a shipper get to speak directly to consumers, unless retailers allow us that access. Packaging is the easiest way to educate a consumer about your product.”

RPE launched its own brand last fall, Old Oak Farms, and it has been growing ever since, say company officials. The goal was to develop a “comprehensive, all-encompassing brand that brought consistency and varietal use explanation to the consumer,” says Randy Shell, vice president of marketing and new business development for the Bancroft, Wis.-based company. “It has helped make the buying process easier for the customer—it’s a one-stop shop to meet all of their onion category needs.” The Old Oak Farms brand currently includes red, yellow and white onions.

IMG_1341For garlic, branding is less important. According to John Duffus, vice president of sales at The Garlic Co., based in Bakersville, Calif., brand recognition does not have a strong impact on the category. So rather than promote its brand, the company has worked with retailers to create a line of private label offerings. Duffus says they are seeing a continued movement towards value-added products.

Sweet onions are another sub-category basking in the sun. This year’s high volume and quality has growers reminding retailers to stock up and plan for the upcoming season.

Retailers should seize this opportunity and put sweet onions front and center, especially with the great quality and volume going into the winter season, says Sarah Seebran, marketing director for Bland Farms, based in Glennville, Ga. “Sweet onions are definitely a driver in the produce department,” she says. “Research conducted by Nielsen last year showed that the sweet onion consumer shops 28% more often, spends 32% more annually and shops across the entire produce department.”

Sweet onions have become the “default onion” in many people’s kitchen, say observers. “Sweet onions are replacing traditional yellow onions as the workhorse onion,” says Brian Kastick, president and general manager of Oso Sweet, based in Charleston, W.Va. “People like the fact that they are sweeter and not as pungent, so you can cook more things with them. The higher water content in a sweet onion really infuses recipes with that onion flavor without all the bite.”

Grilling is the new black
bloominonionRecipes for grilled onions, such as Peri & Sons Farms’ Bloomin’ Colossal Onion, are popping up left and right on blogs, cookbooks and product packaging.

Nowhere is this more prominent than on the store floor during the Idaho-E. Oregon Onion Committee’s (IEOOC) retail display contest. The Parma, Idaho-based organization has renewed its partnership with Weber grills and is teaming up with the grill manufacturer for its inaugural Fall Harvest Retail Display Contest.

Previously held after the New Year, IEOOC moved the contest to take place from September 15 through October 15. “We wanted to be able to reward grocers for carrying our onions early on in the season,” says Sherise Jones, IEOOC’s marketing director. “People are still grilling then and we want to be a part of that.”

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