Bins replace burlap as field-packing preference

03/03/2014 11:58:00 AM
Andy Nelson

Field loading in bins has become the norm for Texas onion growers.

It wasn’t that long ago that most Texas onions were put into burlap bags in the field after they were harvested, said Don Ed Holmes, owner of The Onion House LLC, Weslaco, Texas.

They were then taken to the packing shed, where they were transferred into poly dress bags.

That began to change a few years ago when some growers began loading onions into bins in the field, Holmes said.

The appeal was clear, he said. Short-day onions, like those grown in Texas, are prone to bruising. When bins were loaded in the field then packed in the shed, it cut down on bruising.

As a result, The Onion House is now on the verge of a milestone this season, Holmes said.

“We’ve slowly gone into bins, and this year we’ll be 100% bin-harvested.”

The Onion House will pack Texas onions this season in 3-pounders, 5-pounders, RPCs, cartons and whatever else customers ask for, Holmes said.

But cartons seem to be the trend of the moment.

“The carton deal seems to get stronger every year, as the sweet category grows,” he said. “Ten years ago you’d always dread the winter, because you’d have to buy a hot northern onion. But with Peru now, the season is year-round. More people are getting educated, and the category is growing by leaps and bounds.”

Packaging that plays up the local angle has been a profitable trend, said J Allen Carnes, owner of Winter Garden Produce, Uvalde, Texas.

“We focus a lot on branding local,” he said. “We’ve seen the buying local trend take off in the past five years.”

And with Texas the fastest-growing state in the country, with several major metropolitan areas, luring Texans to buy Texas-grown onions makes good business sense, Carnes said.

What’s true of Glennville, Ga.-based Bland Farms’ signature Vidalia deal is true also of its Texas deal, said Troy Bland, the company’s operations director. The company will pack whatever its customers need.

That means a little of the new, but plenty of the old, too.

“The industry’s changed in the past 10 years. There’s more of a focus on bags,” Bland said. “But the 40-pound box is still the staple.”

Michael Davis, co-owner of Tex-Mex Sales LLC, Weslaco, Texas, said his company prides itself on its extensive sweet onion packaging options.

“We do a lot of cartons, a lot of consumer bags,” Davis said. “We try to cultivate that business. We’re able to pack almost any pack a customer could want.”

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