Steve Roberson of Roberson Onion Co. in Hazlehurst, GA, knows he and the rest of the industry have a terrific crop of Vidalia onions this year and are heading into a solid market.
Like everyone else, he is also worried about someone dropping Vidalia prices near the start of the deal and beginning a race to the bottom of the market.
“Consistent communication from growers and marketing bodies” is the key to preventing that, Mr. Roberson said.
And even though Vidalia Onion Committee Executive Director Wendy Brannen, who has done an exemplary job raising awareness of the product, is moving on to a post with the U.S. Apple Association in Washington, D.C., Vidalia growers still have the world’s best-known onions growing in their fields.
“The Vidalia onion is the predominant factor in the sweet onion market. There are other sweet onions but none match the Vidalia for flavor and desirability. Supply and demand control the market so we need to continue Wendy’s fine work promoting the Vidalia onion,” Mr. Roberson said. “We need to continue to produce a superior product with exceptional packaging as we have in the past. Wendy’s shoes will be difficult to fill at the Vidalia Onion Committee.”
But this year’s Vidalia market will come down to “supply, demand, and quality,” Mr. Roberson said. “Fuel prices and taxes will also play a big role in supply and demand.”
The Vidalia crop is in excellent shape, unlike 2011 when downy mildew took a big bite out of the crop. But so far this season, Roberson has faced no disease or pest pressures, Mr. Roberson said.
Roberson also has ample volume. “We are sitting around 12,300-12,500 acres planted,” Mr. Roberson said.
For the second season, industry veteran Brent Bryson, who joined the company in June of 2011 after 24 years with Wal-Mart, will be on hand to help move the crop. Mr. Bryson worked as a merchandiser and controlled the total food operation for 18 Wal-Mart Supercenters before moving to Hazlehurst seven years ago, where he was store manager. That experience, he said, prepared him for the non-stop hustle and bustle of the Vidalia onion season. “It’s quite a bit like November and December at Wal-Mart,” he said.
“I find a very good, receptive audience while talking to customers and retail chains for the sweet onion variety and definitely at the top of the list is the Vidalia sweet onion,” Mr. Bryson said. “That they’re very familiar with it and want it for their customers and I’m very happy to represent that. It’s an easy sell and nothing’s easy to sell, but it’s good to have a great product to be able to work with. It makes it a lot easier.”
Added Mr. Roberson, “We hope that the supply and demand from the consumer stays steady and feel that the market will stay strong. It’s been interesting, since I sold my first onion in 1980, for the last 32 years to see how this has developed and changed, how it’s grown from its infancy into a mature, world famous industry.”