Promote Sweet Onions Year-Round

Sweet onions run in an extensive bulk product presentation year-round at 3 Guys from Brooklyn, Brooklyn, NY.

Given availability today, it’s up to retailers to maintain interest through the year.

Originally printed in the April 2024 issue of Produce Business.

Sweet onions are effective as promotional items or positioned as a premium product, given the right merchandising and marketing.

Antonio Machuco, who manages produce for Southdown Marketplace, West Islip, NY, says consumers recognize Vidalia onions as representative of the sweet onion category, but consumers are happy to trade off as the Vidalia season trails, giving way to imports, with Peru supplying his store in the winter.

Machuco merchandises sweet onions right in the center of his root vegetables, contrasting them with garlic and Korean yams on one side and red onions on the other.

Southdown Marketplace, West Islip, NY, merchandises sweet onions right in the center of root vegetables, contrasting them with garlic and Korean yams on one side and red onions on the other.

Sweet onions run in an extensive bulk product presentation year-round at 3 Guys from Brooklyn, Brooklyn, NY. Managing Partner Phil Penta says Vidalia onions in season get special identifying signs, and available sweets also get a call out via signage at other times of the year.

Vidalias get special treatment in another way, too, to ensure consumers notice them. “Sometimes we put them in red net bags, two to a bag, as a set,” he says.

Given how the category has been evolving, promoting in-season sweet onions that have cachet in a particular region of the country can be one way to make them a particularly attractive item at all times.


Vidalia season, which kicks off April 17 this year, can be an opportunity to position sweet onions for the year. Promoting the high-profile products for spring and grilling season is a chance to position them to their flavor advantage, as well as setting them as premium components of meals at home.

“The Vidalia onion is known as the go-to onion consumers ask for by name when they are heading into stores,” says Steven Shuman, vice president of sales at G&R Farms, Glennville, GA. “Large signage, endcap displays, and bins are fun and exciting ways retailers will encourage impulse purchasing while increasing awareness of our beloved onion.”

Shuman recommends calling out Vidalias by name and indicating new crop, pick of the crop, fresh, field-picked onions.

“Consumers love the sweet, mild flavor and versatile uses that keep them coming back, from the first day to the last day of the season,” says Shuman.

He recommends opportunities as the year progresses past the Vidalia season. “Sweet onion merchandising and promotions can build off the Vidalia onion season by including merchandising that changes on a weekly or bi-monthly basis to garner awareness, especially as the spring and summer season meals evolve.”

“The importance of an international program cannot be understated. That year-round availability helps consumers stay with sweet onions all year long.”

— Steven Shuman, G&R Farms, Glennville, GA

“Eighty-plus percent of consumers look for meal inspiration at all stopping points on their path to purchase, including digital engagement, so sharing recipes and cooking tips is critical,” Shuman adds.

“Don’t forget, while lots of people are online, many are still visiting your store. Be sure to meet them where they are and don’t go all-in on digital, leaving in-store shoppers behind. This is still one of your best options for impulse purchases.”

Troy Bland, chief executive of Bland Farms, Glennville, GA, says Vidalias have set the pace, but other sweet onions are helping to more firmly establish the category.

The company begins promoting Vidalias before the season starts, and then encourages retailers to build big, attention-grabbing displays. However, to make the most of the sweet onion category, retailers can do well by considering the follow-through.

“Vidalia season has truly raised the bar when it comes to the sweet onion category,” Bland says. “Vidalia sweet onions boast a loyal following and impressive marketing campaigns. We’re fortunate to tap into this momentum and build off it with our Premium Sweet Onions. Fortunately, sweet onions also have exceptional quality and are a great year-round alternative for a flat sweet onion when Vidalias aren’t in season.”


Bland Farms uses the Vidalia Sweet Onions Brand in packaged products and seasonal merchandisers, then switches to Premium Sweet Onions, which also has distinct packaging and support material. The flow of Bland sweet onions continues via production in Georgia, Texas, California, Nevada, Mexico and Peru.

John Shuman, president and chief executive of Shuman Farms, Reidsville, GA, says the quickest and easiest way to drive sales of Vidalia onions and increase overall produce department basket size is with cross-merchandising.

“Due to their versatility and mild flavor, Vidalias are the perfect item to pair with items throughout the department, such as peppers, tomatoes, bagged salads, potatoes, mushrooms and more.”

Shuman Farms, which grows Vidalias in Georgia but also cultivates sweet onions in Texas and Peru, says the ability to develop product that has a similar mild and tasty flavor profile has been key to market development.

“Growth in the sweet onion category relies on a premium, high-quality product, and we’re working with our retail partners to deliver category insights and merchandising solutions that will drive sales of sweet onions, as well as overall produce department sales,” says J. Shuman.

He says Shuman Farms invests in consumer research to better understand trends and demands. “It is important to understand your customer, then implement thoughtful cross-merchandising tactics along with inspiring point-of-sale materials that tell a story about your product.”

G&R’s Shuman says year-round availability has given sweet onions more recognition, which can provide opportunity for continual promotion and priority merchandising.

“The importance of an international program cannot be understated,” he says. “That year-round availability helps consumers stay with sweet onions all year long.”


G&R Farms’ Shuman says sweet onions contribute up to 35% of category sales, “but not just any sweet onion will do.”

“Quality and consistency must be a priority, that the consumer gets the same onion in flavor, quality and versatility, no matter where it comes from. That’s part of our commitment to quality,” he says.

G&R has an operations team in Peru that works closely with the agronomy and production team on new varieties, production techniques and post-production handling to make sure it maintains standards to match that of the Vidalia program.

“We continue to expand and improve our international infrastructure with expanded acreage, updated packaging facilities and new dryers. With almost two decades of international growing experience, we continue to find ways to improve and innovate,” S. Shuman says.


Rene Hardwick, director of public and industry relations, National Onion Association, Eaton, CO, says onions have advantages universally due to their nutritional profile and role as a flavor-enhancing food, but notes retailers can capitalize on branding initiatives that emphasize regions.

“The Vidalia brand obviously brings attention to sweets season, but by then, Texas 1015s have already been harvested,” she says.

Sweet onions emerging from regions that have built a brand reputation can bring more interest to the onion category. What will have the greatest impact, though, varies across the country.

“Locally grown is a great way for America’s sweets to gain recognition, and they are doing very well at it,” she says.

Given availability today, it’s up to retailers and their partners to maintain interest through the year.

“With sweet onions being available year-round, there is a great chance of consumers perhaps losing a bit of the wow factor when the sweets are harvested. So extra attention must be made to promoting them, and not every area has a marketing order like Vidalia, which yields great money for promotional efforts,” says Hardwick.

She says the chance to differentiate sweet onions and their growing area is short, but necessary, to build consumers’ loyalty and knowledge base. She points out the five key sweet onion-growing areas in the U.S. can each provide opportunity, whether it’s Vidalias starting in April, Texas 1015s in March, Nevada Sweetie Sweets, California Imperials or Washington Walla Wallas.

Consumers tend to be more focused on favorites from their own part of the world. Texans are especially expectant of their own sweet onion season, says Dante Galeazzi, marketing order manager, South Texas Onion Committee, Mission, TX.

Texas weather in 2023 created some challenges during the peak harvest, which limited the volume, however, this year, “the weather patterns have worked in our favor, and we are anticipating quite an increase in volume with a better quality and flavor profile,” Galeazzi says. “To date, the onions are looking to be the sweetest that we have had in years.”


The eyes sell onions, Galeazzi adds.

“Visual merchandising has heavily contributed to onion sales,” he says. “This was apparent after it was reported 83% of consumers buy produce from off-shelf impulse displays.”

The South Texas Onion Committee recommends sweet onions should be “front-and-center alongside noticeable signage providing cooking and storage tips in order to capitalize attention on its limited-time availability.”

The committee provides a retail marketing toolkit on its website that includes a merchandising flyer, as well as a social media guide and helpful infographics.

Another consideration is how consumers favor purchasing sweet onions. With sweet onions, a choice between bulk and packaged onions may drive additional interest in the category.

“Bulk onions continue to account for the majority of sales in the onion category, but packaged onions continue to increase in popularity, with key industry players disclosing that since the pandemic, this category has been making significant headway,” says Galeazzi.

“With 81% of consumers cooking more than half of their meals at home, having the ability to grab a 3- or 5-pound bag will remain pivotal in leading the average shopper to add sweet onions as a staple item on their grocery list.”