Young Vidalias remain niche crop

Field packing baby Vidalia onionsCourtesy L.G. Herndon Jr. FarmsA worker field packs Lil’ Bo’s brand baby Vidalia onions for L.G. Herndon Jr. Farms, Lyons, Ga.LYONS, Ga. — Demand isn’t growing by double digits, but green Vidalia onions marketed as “salad” onions under a variety of brands have earned a loyal customer base since their introduction a decade or so ago.

Several growers and shippers offer the so-called baby Vidalias, which are usually sold in bunches of three. Generally they are about the size of a ping pong or golf ball, and growers harvest on demand according to incoming orders.

L.G. Herndon Jr. Farms entered the baby Vidalia deal three years ago with Lil’ Bo’s, named after owner L.G. “Bo” Herndon Jr.

“We start shipping them around Thanksgiving and keep going until the end of April or first part of May,” Herndon said. “We’ve had good, consistent response.”

The immature Vidalias are field packed after being hand harvested and cleaned. Green tops are left on and can be chopped up along with the onion bulb to add subtle, sweet onion flavor to salads, soups and other recipes, Herndon said.

Pittman Family Farms also grows and packs the “green” Vidalia onions, as they are referred to in Georgia statutes. All of the Pittman green Vidalias are marketed by Bland Farms, Glennville, Ga., as salad onions. The Pittman family has been growing and packing them for Bland since 2008, said Mitchell Pittman, partner.

Mitchell Pittman with salad vidalia onionsCoral BeachMitchell Pittman shows some of the salad, aka baby, Vidalia onions harvested in early March at Pittman Family Farm, Lyons, Ga.Delbert Bland, president and owner of Bland Farms, said his company started shipping the young Vidalias about 10 years ago. He said one of the challenges is that the immature onions have an even shorter shelf life than their adult counterparts.

“They’re field packed so they aren’t dried. Their shelf life is only about six days so we don’t pack ahead,” Bland said.

Bryce Edmonson, Bland’s chief executive officer, described the salad Vidalias as a definite niche product.

“They’re not even a blip on the radar screen,” he said. “Not even 1% of our total business.”

Bland said that doesn’t mean he will stop shipping the young Vidalias.

“Demand is across the board for them and we are in our second or third year of mail orders for them,” Bland said. “As long as there is a demand, we’ll keep shipping.”