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High demand expected for Peruvian sweet onions

The Peruvian sweet onion is characterized by a having a very mild flavor and good shelf life, and it comes at the perfect time for most, when the Vidalia program is just winding down. Some U.S. companies have partnered with local growers while others have invested in infrastructure and control their own crop.

Miguel Ognio Gomez, chief executive office of KeyPeru, a Peruvian company with more than 15 years of experience delivering premium products the U.S., said last year there were approximately 3,500 containers representing nearly 108,000 tons of sweet onions exported to the U.S., and he expects a similar volume for 2017.

“We estimate a very good quality for the 2017 season. Very clean and very mild flavored onions,” Gomez said. “We’re looking at 15 percent mediums, 45 percent jumbos and 40 percent colossal.”

Peru has 2,500 to 3,000 hectares of sweet onions with the main production areas being Ica, Norte Chico de Lima, and Arequipa. Peru’s weather so far is helping the crop since it is a little warmer during the early portion of the season.

“We anticipate that weather will come back to normal at the end of the year,” Gomez said. “Most of the sweet onion growers are very much aware of the need to export onions with very low pungency in order to obtain the most gratifying satisfaction with the final consumer.”

John Shuman, president of Shuman Produce, located in Reidsville, GA, has been impressed with the early indications of quality and yield for this year’s crop and foresees a nice mix of product ranging in size from medium to jumbo to colossal.

“We expect demand for Peruvian sweet onions to remain high as they continue to be the category driver during the fall and winter months thanks to their versatility and mild, sweet flavor profile,” he said.

Gomez noted that a concern in the industry is the so-called “imposter sweet onions,” which are labeled and sold as sweets because the external appearance is similar but the flavor is hot.

“It creates a confusion in the final consumer who is looking for an onion to be consumed raw avoiding the hard flavor and its latter consequences during the digestion,” he said.

Overall, Gomez estimates that there are no more than 10 to 12 serious Peruvian sweet onion growers, although there are always newcomers who come and go after one season.

“Most of the growers have programs with buyers for about 3,700 hectares per season/year,” he said. “The volume is growing every year but not at a very high rate. Probably it grows at about 5 to 7 percent. The reason being that this category of onions is a ‘delicatessen’ and requires very special agricultural tools, weather, soil and water standards in order to make a sweet onions.”

Although the U.S. accounts for a great deal of Peruvian exports (around 85 percent), the market has good demand and it’s seeing strong growth in the European market where consumers are becoming aware of the benefits of a sweet onion.

“Current and new markets are willing to pay the premium price for the sweet category but they need to be sure the onions are guaranteed of a very mild flavor,” Gomez said.