Promote And They Will Sell
Merchandising imported onions, like their domestic cousins, begins with good-looking displays of both bulk and bagged product.
“We recommend our retail partners stock both bagged and bulk product to customize offerings to consumer demands,” says John Shuman, president of Shuman Produce, Reidsville, GA. “We provide RealSweet sweet onions in a variety of packs and sizes to meet the needs of all demographics. Our bagged products act as effective merchandising tools, with high-quality graphic product imagery and great seasonal recipes.”
Three decades ago, Shuman Produce began as a family sweet onion farm in Vidalia, GA, and has expanded to offer year-round product by sourcing from Texas, Nevada, New Mexico, Peru and Mexico. “We suggest placing sweet onions in the center of the produce department for maximum effect,” says Shuman. “Secondary displays are recommended during peak season and holiday promotions to take advantage of the incremental sales increase during these periods.”
The onion has such culinary versatility that the opportunities for fruitful cross-promotion are almost endless.
“Sweet onions pair well with numerous items inside and outside the produce department” says Shuman. “Merchandising sweet onions alongside additional products that can be combined to create an easy meal solution will raise the ring at the register. Retailers should also consider displays outside of the produce department to maximize sales during the fall months, when grilling and tailgating are top of consumer’s minds.”
Because cross-promotions are so important with onions, retailers will find it worthwhile to change with the seasons to suit their shifting use.
“In warm weather, consumers tend to prepare more salads, fresh salsas and lightly cooked or grilled dishes,” says Wayne Mininger, executive vice president of the National Onion Association (NOA), Greely, CO. “These foods work best with juicy, crisp, sweet to mild onions available spring and summer. In colder weather, consumers turn to comfort foods like soups, stew and roast — all dishes made especially savory with imported onions available in the fall and winter. Pairing onions with seasonally appropriate items creates effective cross-merchandising sales opportunities. Highlighting them in the deli section of the store increases movement and sales volume.”
While many consumers already know onions are healthy, some of them are short on ideas for how to use them.
“The health and flavor benefits are an easy sell for consumers looking to cook tasteful food without salt and cholesterol,” says Marty Kamer, president of Keystone Fruit Marketing, a division of Progressive Produce, Los Angeles. “Sweet onions also offer ample opportunity for promotion and cross-merchandising with a variety of products in and out of the department. Sweet onions are a perfect promotion item for inclusion in a wide range of recipes. Run promotions targeting consumers, display tips on how to use onions, and include recipes when possible. Thirty percent of consumers say they would buy and eat more fruits and vegetables if they knew how to use them.”
Packaging can help bridge the information gap by letting consumers know how onions can be used.
“Today’s innovative packaging includes usage tips, recipes and nutrition details,” says Kamer. “Growers, shippers and retailers continuously strive to develop state-of-the-art packaging and displays to catch consumers’ attention while at the same time provide information on nutrition and how to utilize the product to boost sales.”
Some shippers work with retailers to develop individual merchandising programs suited to meet their needs.
“We tailor our promotions to each customer,” says Barry Rogers, president of Sweet Onion Trading Company, Melbourne, FL. The company has sourced onions from around the world since shortly after the turn of the century.
Other shippers have developed promotional campaigns specifically designed to help retailers move more onions during the upcoming peak season.
“We have many dynamic customer-specific promos planned for this fall and winter,” says Kamer. “As fall and winter are truly great cooking seasons, Keystone plans to offer many promotions. From tailgating to holiday cooking to easy crock pot meals, Mayan Sweets are a perfect promotion item for these recipes.”
Kamer says in-store materials can also help draw attention to both the health benefits and where the finest onions are grown. “Feature pictures, biographies, history of growers (real people) who produce sweet onions. Use effective point-of-purchase materials and signage to showcase the nutritional benefits and outstanding flavor of high-quality sweet onions to consumers,” he says.
While displays and demos help, the NOA says advertising and social media are essential because onions are rarely an impulse buy.