Sweet flavor keeps American consumers coming back for more.
Peruvian onions satisfy a lot of needs, wants and desires for American consumers, and they are showing their appreciation.
“Peruvian sweet onion sales continue to grow each year,” says Sloan Lott, sales manager for Bland Farms in Glennville, GA. “They are still sold mostly in a 60/40 split: 60 percent being bulk 40-pound cartons, and 40 percent consumer bags. The consumer bag sector has been growing rapidly over the years.”
Lott believes Peruvian onions should be promoted as “the premium sweet onion” during the fall and winter months. “Peruvian sweet onions can be cross-marketed with potatoes, salads, hamburgers and more. We also cross-market with our Vidalia brand items throughout the winter.”
Bland Farms’ senior sales manager Jeff Rhoden points out there is strong demand from consumers for sweet onions year-round. “We believe Peruvian sweet onions are one of the best sweet onion options available once the Vidalia sweet onions are finished. Most retailers reduce the shelf space for sweet onions once Vidalias are finished, but they keep sweet onions available for their customers.”
“The sweet onion crop in Peru is coming in nicely, with adequate volume and size of onions for our core business,” reports Martin Kamer, president of Keystone Fruit Marketing, Inc. in Greencastle, PA. “Demand and high-quality sweet onions from Peru are expected to be excellent throughout the fall and winter selling season.”
Over the past several years, Kamer continues, demand for sweet onions has been steadily increasing. “This demand has been fueled by increased consumer awareness and growing popularity of sweet onions. For a period of time, the available supply of authentic sweet onions was lagging behind the demand. Today, a reliable steady supply of year-round authentic sweet onions is available to meet increasing demand.”
Over the past year, Reidsville, GA-based Shuman Produce Inc.’s RealSweet Peruvian sweet onions have enjoyed a banner season with good yields and excellent quality, which president John Shuman says enabled the firm to keep up with record-setting consumer demand.
“While it’s still too early to make estimates of this year’s crop in terms of volume,” says president John Shuman, “sweet onions remain the onion category driver and account for a third of total onion sales.”
Recent trends, he adds, show sweet onions are a staple in many consumers’ kitchens and a popular ingredient in some of the most creative home-cooked meals. “They’re valued for the mild, sweet flavor and inherent versatility in a variety of dishes.”
According to Kamer, fall/winter is a great time to create impulse sales by building large displays of sweet onions. “Go big to capitalize on one of today’s hottest trends — fresh produce — which is healthful, colorful and bursting with freshness. Nothing says buy me like big, prominent bulk and consumer bag displays.”
“Many retailers strive to take advantage of cross-merchandising by strategically placing onions near products that can be utilized with sweet onions.”
— Martin Kamer, Keystone Fruit Marketing, Inc.
Due to increased demand of sweet onions, many retailers found it advantageous to carry bulk or loose jumbo sweet onions as well as consumer bags of medium sweet onions. Endcaps, standalones, value-added product offerings, multi-size strategies and bagged displays offer consumers multiple buying options and ensure sales lift.
When it comes to value added, Kamer points out onions are processed for fresh consumption — peeled, sliced, diced and chunked onions, “which also goes directly to the foodservice industry. Fresh onions are used to enhance flavors in a wide range of recipes, including salads, soups, stews, and casseroles, as well as used as a garnish in sandwiches, wraps and in classic Mexican or Italian cuisine.”
Approximately 15 to 18 percent of onions are processed for use in prepared food items such as salsa, soups, and appetizers.
Cross-marketing can be a powerful retail strategy. Sweet onion usage “is very diverse, and cross-merchandising opportunities are limitless,” says Kamer.
“Many retailers strive to take advantage of cross-merchandising by strategically placing onions near products that can be utilized with sweet onions. The sweet mild flavors of onions make them fantastic on a hamburger or in a fresh salad; simply slice and enjoy.”
As an ingredient, he says, they are guaranteed to enhance favorite recipes. “Sweet onions will take any menu offering to a whole new level. They are perfect with steaks, burgers and kabobs … grilling promotions are always a hit. Don’t forget the fresh fruit baskets; sweet onions are terrific with fresh fruit.”
Sweet onions present an opportunity for incremental produce sales if cross-merchandised, says Kamer. “The health and flavor benefits are an easy sell for consumers looking to cook tasteful food without salt and cholesterol.”
Today’s innovative packaging includes usage tips, recipes, and nutrition details. Growers, shippers and retailers continuously work to develop state-of-the-art packaging and displays to catch consumers’ eyes while at the same time providing information on nutrition and utilizing products to boost retailer sales year-round.
Indeed, says Kamer, Peruvian onions help make availability of year-round sweet onions possible. “Consumers respond to brand recognition. Consistently purchasing the highest-quality sweet onion brands from only reputable industry leaders is the easiest way for retailers to provide consumers with confidence that they are buying the highest quality, safest, freshest and most flavorful sweet onions.”
Shuman says his RealSweet Peruvian sweet onions are part of a year-round program, “and provide consumers with a high-quality sweet onion with a similar shape and flavor profile to the Vidalia onion during the fall and winter months.
“Peruvian sweet onions increased in popularity because they follow directly after Vidalia onion season,” says Shuman. “The transition is seamless from Vidalia onions to their Peruvian counterparts.”
RealSweet Peruvian sweet onions are the same variety grown in the sandy soils of the Vidalia region, explains Shuman.
“Research we conducted with Nielsen Perishables Group indicates sweet onions drive sales of a variety of items — especially when marketed together. For example, consumers with sweet onions in their carts are more likely to purchase produce such as peppers, celery, tomatoes, mushrooms and bagged salad as well as fresh meats such as beef and chicken.”
In addition, Shuman Produce remains engaged with consumers through its website and social media outlets by promoting its year-round sweet onion availability.
Shuman executives recommend that their retail partners stock both bagged and bulk product, and customize offerings to meet their customers’ demands. Production of bagged sweet onions continues to grow, and now account for nearly half of the total annual volume shipped to market. Shuman Produce provides RealSweet Peruvian sweet onions in a variety of packs and sizes to meet the needs of all demographics. Bags, bins and boxes provide bright colors and imagery — making them easy to merchandise.
“Merchandising sweet onions alongside additional products that can be combined to produce an easy meal solution draws consumers in and raises the ring at the register.”
— John Shuman, Shuman Produce Inc.
Shuman and his team approach added-value as an opportunity to make purchasing sweet onions as easy as possible, and suggest placing sweet onions in the center of the produce department for maximum effect.
“Merchandising sweet onions alongside additional products that can be combined to produce an easy meal solution draws consumers in and raises the ring at the register,” says Shuman. “For example, a display including sweet onions, tomatoes and avocados could be used to create a flavorful promotion.”
Demand for Peruvian sweet onions continues to grow as consumers recognize their high quality and mild, sweet flavor. Regardless of regional demographics, sweet onions continue to drive onion category sales as well as sales of other produce items.
In fact, a basket containing sweet onions is 40 percent larger than the average produce basket, according to Shuman. RealSweet sweet onions pair well with numerous items inside and outside of the produce department, says Shuman, and drive sales of many other products.
“That’s why they continue to drive the onion category,” says Shuman. “Retailers should consider displays outside of produce to maximize sales during the fall months when grilling and tailgating are top of mind. RealSweet Peruvian sweet onions “make the perfect pairing for burgers, sausage and chicken on the grill, and research shows merchandising them together increases sales of both products.”
As his retail partners know, displays drive sales “and that’s why we provide bags, bins and boxes that work to complement each other … and featuring product with bright colors and imagery draws consumers’ eyes and attention,” explains Shuman. He also recommends secondary displays during peak season and holiday promotions to take advantage of the incremental sales during these periods.
Consumer Cooking Trends
Food TV, celebrity chefs, cooking shows, and all forms of media bring awareness to all fresh fruits and vegetables, and onions are a big part of this awareness as a staple ingredient.
“The sweet mild flavors of onions make them fantastic on a hamburger or in a fresh salad or with steaks and kabobs — simply slice and enjoy,” says Martin Kamer, president of Keystone Fruit Marketing, Inc. in Greencastle, PA. “As an ingredient they are guaranteed to enhance favorite recipes. Sweet onions will take any menu offering to a whole new level.”
Many promotions target the consumer, he adds, displaying tips on how to use onions to include recipes when possible. Imported sweet onions can be one of the key ingredients used in many holiday recipes.
“Product differentiation gives consumers reasons to buy with confidence,” says Kamer. “Emphasizing the quality, flavor, and nutrition differences of authentic sweet onions over regular cooking onions will promote higher rings at the cash register. The top two reasons people eat fruits and vegetables are taste and nutrition. Product education and tasting demos allow consumers to experience products and always generate sales lifts.”
Promotional efforts are increased through ad programs focusing on special pricing during holiday periods or special events.
“Most consumers use them in salads,” says Sloan Lott, sales manager for Bland Farms in Glennville, GA. “Also, in hamburgers and any other items where they would use regular yellows.”
“Sweet onions are valued for their sweet, mild flavor and their inherent versatility and everyday use in so many recipes and ethnic cuisines,” says John Shuman, president of Reidsville, GA-based Shuman Produce Inc.
“Consumers who purchase RealSweet sweet onions are likely to be fresh and healthy premium shoppers who prefer home-cooked meals, purchase specialty items, and are more likely to buy products commonly used in ethnic cuisines, specifically Mexican or Italian-influenced meals.”
Sweet onions also add a new flavor profile to tailgate classics and soups in the fall, as cooler weather becomes the norm.
Shuman cites research conducted by the Chicago-based Nielsen Perishables Group in 2015 that shows an increased consumption of fresh foods by adults aged 18 to 34. “Today’s consumer is becoming more educated on the versatility of sweet onions and using them in a wide variety of recipes.”