Onion grower/shipper Walt Dasher with G&R Farms in Glennville, GA, recently provided us with his outlook for the onion industry in 2021, as seen through the lens of 2020’s unprecedented circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and Mother Nature. Walt’s insight began with a look at the year that was.
“Demand for sweet onions grew in 2020 due to the pandemic,” he said. “Consumers began stocking up on staples, and onions fit that category. During the 2020 Vidalia season, the increase in demand began with the launch of the season in April and continued throughout the summer months.”
Walt continued, “Vidalia supplies were limited last year to due weather issues, but we were able to secure additional supplies from Peru earlier than expected.”
Looking at 2021 and what he thinks lies ahead, he said, “We anticipate that demand will continue to increase this year. With more consumers shopping online and also with less trips to the store due to COVID-19, we also expect to see a continued increase in bagged product versus bulk product.”
Citing stats, Walt said, “According to data from Acosta Insights, 31 percent of U.S. shoppers — including 50 percent of millennials — reported being very or extremely likely to continue using online grocery pickup or delivery once the pandemic is over.”
His prediction for foodservice is optimistic, based on recent surveys. “The foodservice customers we currently deal with are still feeling the pressure from COVID-19, and their business is down,” he said. “But there is some good news on the horizon. Technomic research shows that 40 percent of Americans took advantage of takeout and curbside delivery at both fast casual and dine-in during the pandemic, and about two-thirds of those responding said they would continue using these services even if restrictions are lifted.”
Walt noted, “Pent-up demand for dining in restaurants is increasing. Data from the National Restaurant Association shows that 83 percent of adults say they are not eating on the premises at restaurants as often as they would like, up from 45 percent who expressed that pre-pandemic. Baby boomers especially miss eating out, with 90 percent reporting they would like to dine at restaurants more frequently.”
And while foodservice could see a nice uptick, retail is likely to hold steady, Walt said.
“Yes, we expect retail will remain strong, especially since consumers have gotten used to the options of buying online and/or doing curbside pick-up for convenience. Consumers tend to purchase more staple items during a recession, and many shoppers have a more limited income due to the pandemic.”
He suggested that agencies and associations would do well to focus on some key marketing points, such as convenient, easy recipes to make at home since consumers are eating out less and cooking more at home. Another prime focal point could be tips on how to cut and store sweet onions, which Walt said “will also be key especially since consumers are making less trips to the supermarket and can stock up by storing onions in the fridge for a longer period of time.”
And, he said, marketing and promotional material would benefit by including “nutritional and health benefits to help boost the immune system.”
When asked if G&R Farms had experienced a strengthening in relationships during the pandemic, Walt said, “Our Season of Giving promotion is one example of real heartfelt cooperation. We teamed up with Costco and Schnucks during the 2020 Holiday Season because we felt compelled to offer support and give back to the communities we serve. This included partnering with the United Way for the Costco Texas Division and Operation Food Search for Schnucks.”
He added, “Both organizations have been helping those impacted by the pandemic, with the United Way providing health, education and financial stability and Operation Food Search distributing food and necessities.”
Moreover, Walt said, “This promotion not only strengthened these retail relationships, but we were very glad to raise funds to support so many Americans who have suffered personal and financial losses due to COVID-19.”
We asked about competition and orderly marketing during 2021, and Walt said, “I have always said that healthy competition makes any industry much stronger as a whole, and I have found that sweet onions are no exception!”