As one of the oldest produce categories—a quick Google search tells me the bulbous veg has been around for 5,000 years—onions’ place in the produce aisle is unrivaled, and their role as a staple in culinary creations around the world unmatched. But I have to admit that my onion variety knowledge is limited to just that: onions. Luckily for me, one of our industry’s respected onion-ologists, Peri & Sons Farms’ Teri Gibson, Director of Marketing and Customer Relations, was willing to welcome me to Onions 101, starting the course off with a variety fit for spring.
“Spring/summer onion varieties are called ‘short-day’ because they are planted in the fall and their growing patterns are matched to days with shorter periods of sunlight,” Teri explains to me. “In comparison, fall/winter onion varieties are called ‘long-day’ because they are planted in the spring and their growing patterns are matched to long days filled with sunshine. The differences in growing times and seed varieties result in varying onion characteristics.”
These differences are primarily visible on the skin, with Teri pointing to spring onions’ thin, light-colored, mottled skin and winter onions’ thick, opaque, glossy skin. In addition, spring onions have a higher water ratio, which makes them softer. Because of this, spring onions have a shorter shelf-life during the months of May through July and a higher tendency to mark, nick, or bruise. Winter onions, on the other hand, have a lower water ratio, making them dense, firm, and harder to bruise, with a longer shelf-life during the months of August through April as a result.
With some basics under my belt, I’m ready to dive deeper below the soil and learn about how onions are grown. I ask Teri if she can share any of Peri & Sons’ spring onion growing tricks, which the Peri family has been cultivating since 1902, when company President David Peri’s grandfather emigrated from Italy to Lockwood, Nevada.
“Over the years, we have put substantial resources into implementing new farming techniques and adopting cutting-edge technologies with the goal of meeting, and even exceeding, our industry’s sustainable farming standards. We’re cultivating a sustainable future. That’s why Peri & Sons is the first domestic onion-farming operation to achieve the Sustainably Grown certification from SCS Global Services,” Teri shares. “The certification means we are in accordance with some of the world’s highest environmental, social, and economic criteria.”
While Teri does not explicitly divulge this next trick, it is obvious just from speaking with her that Peri & Sons’ emphasis on family is its best-kept, but not exactly secret, secret to farming onions. Over the course of our brief conversation, the word “family” has come up too many times to count, and even when it is not the main topic of conversation, its importance to Peri & Sons wraps around all it does like a hug. For example, today a fourth generation of Peris is carrying on Grandfather Peri’s farming vision and, in the process, is passing down that pivotal love of the land to the still-young fifth generation.
Teri herself, while not a Peri by blood, speaks of her own place in the Peri & Sons family—a place that she’s held near and dear for the last ten years. Prior to joining the produce industry, Teri’s career began in graphic design and communications and led to many years in the marketing and advertising world. Looking for a change and a new challenge in 2009, fate ultimately guided her to Peri & Sons Farms’ doorstep.
“By quirky chance, Pamela Peri reached out to me for some marketing insight. I’d known Pam’s family for years and had always been fascinated by the Peri family's farming operations, so I was very excited to be of help,” Teri reminisces. “Their business was booming, and they were looking for someone to develop a comprehensive marketing plan from the ground up. What started as an engaging project ended up as a highly rewarding second career. When you love what you do, time flies. I love the people, the products, and the work I do to promote it all and continue the farm’s success, and I’d be honored to be able to do this for many more years to come.”
In addition to the Peri family’s, and its entire team's, dedication, one of the main reasons Peri & Sons has successfully kept its operations in business for over a hundred years is that the team isn’t afraid of funky freshifying onions to keep up with the times. Specifically, organics is a trend that few are escaping—onions included!—and Peri & Sons is digging in deep to ensure the category as a whole is adapting to this new landscape.
"...We have put substantial resources into implementing new farming techniques and adopting cutting-edge technologies."
–Teri Gibson, Director of Marketing and Customer Relations, Peri & Sons Farms
“More and more consumers are choosing organic produce as part of an adherence to a healthy lifestyle and a growing awareness of the importance of protecting our natural resources,” Teri says. “Peri & Sons' organics continually meet or exceed National Organic Program standards in accordance with the USDA's and EU's regulations. Additionally, our organics program is right in line with retailers that are expanding the organic produce sections of their departments to meet growing consumer demand.”
With spring underway and organic spring onions available, Peri & Sons is kicking off yet another year of its OnionXpress and Go Organic promotions, which play on the natural differences between spring onions and winter onions.
“We’ve found our OnionXpress and Go Organic promotions to be a good way to kick off the spring season. It’s the best time to remind buyers, retailers, and consumers that as seasons change, so does the look of produce. Seasonality is a good thing; it’s natural and organic,” Teri notes. “The annual program seeks to educate, inform, and manage expectations as we transition out of our winter storage onions and into our fresh spring onions. There’s no difference in taste—the spring onions just have a different look. Although I do recommend enjoying spring onions fresh, not over-cooked.”
Those familiar with Peri & Sons' spring onion program know that the annual promotion is for naught without its sought-after Go Organic t-shirts, which Teri tells me really bring the campaign to life. The company also provides point-of-sale and other materials for retailers looking to make their spring onion programs pop.
As we shift gears to talk about how Peri & Sons ensures consumers are excited about spring onions, the conversation turns once more to family. Specifically, Peri & Sons’ marketing strategies, like OnionXpress and Go Organic, are a way for the company to invite new and old consumers into its family dynamic. As a result, the immediate Peri family drives the farming operations from seed to store while the consumer-side of the family keeps onion talk up all year long.
“We reach out and seek to connect with consumers through our various social media channels. We create engaging information that will help them select the best produce available. We hope to increase their enjoyment of fresh organic produce by providing free recipes, prep and cooking tips, and increasing their understanding of onions’ journey from seed to store,” Teri concludes.
Just like life, onions find a way. As a category that has found a way into flavor palates and culinary dishes for the last 5,000 years, I’m thinking that with the help of Peri & Sons Farms, spring onions in particular will be finding ways into families’ homes and hearts for 5,000 more. And onion glad for that, heh?