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Layers of Insight: a Q&A with Delbert Bland

Onions are as ubiquitous a produce item as it gets—as they should be! Their rightful place in the produce aisle has never been challenged, as the yellows, whites, and reds of the onion family have taken center stage over the years. But are sweet onions rising up in the ranks to become a standout variety among these staples? To learn more about the sweet onion’s journey from fringe-gourmet onion to must-have-it-now item, I spoke with Delbert Bland, President of Bland Farms, to learn about trends that have propelled this change and where he sees opportunity for the sweet onion market to grow.

Anne Allen: What trends or events have you seen that, in turn, piqued Bland Farms’ interest in expanding its vidalia onion reach?

Delbert Bland: The cycle of sweet onions, and onions in general, is on a very positive cycle right now as far as shippers are concerned. Their onion supplies are very limited, so the market is going up tremendously and it’s at about twice the price it was last year. So, that piques a lot of interest. When the market is good and onions are bringing a good price, retailers need us because they want to put more money behind those products, which gets more money going through the system. Everybody seems to be in good spirits about sweet onions right now, so that’s a good sign for us in the business.

I also think that sweet onions are beginning to be looked at as a gourmet item. Onions have always been seen as a staple food, and when chefs are preparing sweet onions in restaurants in new ways, consumers start to demand to see those options in their local stores.

AA: Have you observed anything in particular on the consumer side that speaks to their love of vidalia onions?

DB: On the consumer side, there’s always been a big draw toward Vidalia onions. But I also believe that it’s a lot to do with millennials, especially their belief in the partner themselves. What I’ve found is they want to get to know the grower and the family behind the products they’re eating, and the Vidalia story answers that call.

AA: In what areas of Bland Farms are you currently expanding?

DB: We’re still expanding the sweet onion category because there’s a lot of potential for it. Since Bland Farms focuses on one commodity, we concentrate on being the best at that one. When you’re doing business, if you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes, as Lewis Grizzard used to say.

And I want to continue being a leader in the industry, as far as in innovation, marketing, selling, and growing onions.

AA: How do you see the rising demand for crops like sweet onions changing the fresh produce industry?

DB: I think they have more shelf space now in an area that yellow onions used to control. In past years, retailers would only get a sweet onion a certain number of months of the year. Now, as we continue to grow, we’ve been a year-round supplier for a long time. I think the sweet onion market is beginning to edge out some of the shelf space that the yellow market had before.

Long gone are the days in which we couldn’t even pronounce Vidalia—the sweet onion has taken its rightful place among the produce staples.